The number of migrant families that U.S. border agents apprehended at the southwest border dropped sharply in October, according to data released Thursday by border officials.
The decrease follows what had been one of the most significant periods of family apprehensions in U.S. immigration history, an issue that dominated headlines and created challenges at detention facilities ill-equipped to handle so many young children.
Family units accounted for 55% of people who crossed the border without authorization and were stopped by U.S. Border Patrol agents in the 2019 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.
Last month, however, that proportion dropped to 27%, a figure more in line with historical averages.
Families accounted for 9,733 of the 35,444 people apprehended in October, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
It was the fifth straight month of declining apprehension numbers since May, when the number of migrants stopped by CBP spiked past 130,000.
Number of Children, Families Crossing US-Mexico Border Jumps in May Uptick most notable for families, most of whom are from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras
That increase was driven in large part by Central American families seeking asylum.
The Trump administration attributes the lower numbers in recent months to several new policies, including the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), under which more than 50,000 people apprehended after crossing the southwest U.S. border without authorization were sent back to Mexico - regardless of their country of origin - to await their U.S. immigration hearings.
Migrants, advocates, researchers and lawyers have repeatedly raised concerns over security conditions in Mexico for those individuals and families pushed back under MPP, especially in border areas with a significant cartel presence.
Several people VOA spoke with at the border in August considered their options, including returning to their home countries, staying in Mexico, or re-attempting a border crossing.
Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan said during a White House briefing on Thursday that about 9% of those migrants made to stay in Mexico under MPP were caught again attempting to enter the United States.
US-Bound Migrants, Asylum-Seekers Wait Out Policy Changes Despite the odds against them, migrants and asylum-seekers from the Americas, Africa and beyond await their fates along America's southern border
Asked about safety concerns in Mexico, Morgan placed responsibility for migrants' well-being on the country's government.
"They have committed that they will do everything they can to provide adequate protection and shelter for those individuals waiting in Mexico under the MPP program," he said.
"If someone is in fear for their life, they can come to a port of entry and claim that, and we'll take them in," Morgan added.
Immigrant and human rights advocates contest Morgan's assertion, noting that, under MPP, a broad range of migrants, including asylum-seekers, have been sent to Mexico. in August, VOA spoke with several migrants in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, who were awaiting U.S. court dates.