WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of children crossing illegally on their own into the United States dropped 70 percent from June to August, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Monday as he appealed to Congress for $1.2 billion in supplemental funding.
A yearlong surge that brought nearly 63,000 unaccompanied children to the southwestern U.S. border had the Obama administration grappling for ways to handle the influx and stem the flow of children and families trying to get into the country.
President Barack Obama on Saturday cited the crisis, which he said made Americans wary of new immigration measures, as the reason he put off taking executive action on immigration reform until after November congressional elections.
U.S. government figures show 3,141 unaccompanied children tried to cross the border in August, compared with this year’s peaks of 10,580 in May and 10,622 in June. The July figure was 5,501. Adults with children trying to cross into the country dropped to 3,295 in August from 16,329 in June, they show.
Johnson said the August figure for unaccompanied children was lower than last year’s and the lowest since February 2013.
To contain this year’s surge, U.S. authorities opened temporary shelters, reassigned border agents, added processing centers and immigration judges and launched Spanish-language campaigns in the countries most of the children were fleeing, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
“The aggressive border security measures recounted above have cost money,” Johnson said in a statement.
Obama in July sought $3.7 billion in supplemental funding for DHS, which includes the Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies.
Congress did not approve the funding before its summer recess and Johnson said he was forced to reprogram money from the disaster relief fund and other homeland security priorities.
With lawmakers back in session, the department is seeking $1.2 billion in supplemental funding for fiscal year 2015.
“Though the worst of the spike in illegal migration is over and back to 2013 levels, we must still pay our bills and continue to sustain the measures we put in place to prevent another spike in illegal migration of unaccompanied children and adults with children,” Johnson said in a statement.
Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Peter Cooney