WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has quietly abandoned its aggressive monthslong search for emergency shelters across the nation as the number of unaccompanied children illegally crossing the southern border continues to drop.
At the same time, three facilities at military bases in Texas, California and Oklahoma that were set up as shelters are no longer housing children from Central America.
An official with the Department of Health and Human Services, which led the search for shelters, said there has been a drop in the number of children apprehended at the border and an increase in the number of children sent to live with families or friends.
"We have begun to see some initial signs of progress along our southwest border," said Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for HHS's Administration for Children and Families.
The number of unaccompanied children traveling from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, most through the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, surged this year. But officials say the influx slowed this summer, probably because of many factors, including the weather, a media campaign urging parents not to send their children to the United States and the arrest of some people bringing children over the border.
Advocacy groups that work with immigrants cautioned that there is always a dip in the numbers during hot summer months and that they could spike again.
"It's seasonal," said Megan McKenna of Kids in Need of Defense, an organization that provides legal services to unaccompanied immigrant children. "We'll see what happens when it becomes cooler."
President Barack Obama asked Congress to approve nearly $4 billion to help with the higher numbers of immigrants crossing the border — including more Border Patrol agents, judges and lawyers and more beds at detention centers — but lawmakers left town for their annual summer recess without acting.
The government has been housing unaccompanied minors at nearly 100 shelters across the nation, which will continue.
The decision to abandon the search for new shelters was made this month after the administration released statistics showing that the number of unaccompanied minors dropped by nearly half in July, compared with the previous two months. About 5,500 children were apprehended in July.