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Border Patrol officers meet near a border fence and security camera tower near the U.S.-Mexico border on May 21, 2013 near Harlingen, Texas. The area, popular with tourists as well as wildlife, is also attractive to drug smugglers bringing their product north from Mexico into the United States.
While apprehension rates along the US-Mexico border remain the lowest in decades, new numbers released by the U.S. Border patrol show that there’s a significant shift in where border crossers are headed and where they're coming from.
In Texas’ Rio Grande Valley the number of apprehensions has tripled since 2010, straining resources and revealing a troubling trend: a rising number of unaccompanied children from conflict zones in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
"The murder rates have really exploded, especially in Honduras," said Melissa del Bosque, reporter with the Texas Observer, who also writes the blog La Línea.
According to new figures released by U.S. Border Patrol at the end of January, apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley rose to 154,453 for Fiscal Year 2013. That number surpasses those apprehended in Tucson by nearly 35,000. In the Rio Grande Valley, juveniles make up 26,027 of those apprehended, compared to 10,675 in Tucson.
"That has been the most surprising thing," said del Bosque, who added that typically the number of children would be around 7,000 a year. "Last year it shot up to 25,000. Now Homeland Security is estimating maybe 60,000 kids."
That poses challenges to humanitarian services, said del Bosque.
In the Rio Grande Valley, those coming from countries other than Mexico, make up 96,829 of those apprehended, or about 63 percent.
One figure the Border Patrol doesn't track, though, is how many are seeking political asylum, said del Bosque. And there are indications that those applications are on the rise -- especially among Mexicans. With the current unrest in Michoacán, said del Bosque, that also could increase.
Nationwide, the number of apprehensions was 420,789 last year, marking the third year out of the last five that the number surpassed the 400,000 mark.