WASHINGTON — The U.S. Border Patrol arrested nearly 10,000 unaccompanied immigrant children and families caught illegally crossing the border with Mexico in August, a 52 percent jump from August 2014, according to statistics published by the agency Monday afternoon.
Since the start of the fiscal year in October, border agents have arrested more than 35,000 children traveling alone and more than 34,500 people traveling as families, mostly mothers and children. The total number of arrests for the year is down nearly 50 percent compared with a year ago, but border agents have reported a jump in arrests since July.
The Border Patrol reported arresting 6,424 unaccompanied immigrant children and families in August 2014, compared to 9,790 this year.
The August increase comes a year after a surge of more than 68,000 unaccompanied children at the U.S.-Mexico border. Many were trying to escape violence in Honduras, El Salvador or Guatemala. For much of the year, the number of illegal border crossings by families and children has been far lower than last year, before increasing in July and August.
It's unclear exactly what has led to the overall decrease in border arrests of families and children, but Mexico has stepped up enforcement along its southern border.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the August numbers were a "surprising uptick" and a "concern" for the administration. Earnest did not provide a reason for the increase, but noted that it's at odds with the typical decline in border crossings in August.
Adam Isacson, a border expert and senior analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, said the 4,632 unaccompanied children caught at the border last month is the highest number his agency has recorded for August since 2009.
Isacson said historically, crossings start to slow after springtime highs. But July saw an uptick, and now the number of unaccompanied children crossing in August has begun to rival numbers from the beginning and the end of last year's surge.
Isacson said that this could indicate the beginning of another surge, noting that the number of people caught traveling as families also ticked upward last month.
"It could be a flash in the pan," he said, "But we are going up the trend line."
The administration was caught off guard by the sudden surge of children and families in 2014 and made several efforts to curb the flow of people crossing the border illegally, including media campaigns to discourage people from making the dangerous trip across Mexico. The administration also opened family detention centers that could house thousands of people while they awaited deportation hearings. The detention centers were established in part because about 70 percent of families released at the border and ordered to report back to immigration authorities failed to return to face deportation hearings.
A federal judge in California ruled last month that the Homeland Security Department's detention of families violated a longstanding legal agreement requiring that immigrant children not be held in secure facilities that aren't licensed to care for children.
The government filed an appeal in that case on Friday and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the detention centers were being converted into processing centers for interviews and screenings.
Earnest said the U.S. will continue to warn people considering crossing the border or helping their children do so about the dangers associated with the trip.
Associated Press reporter Seth Robbins in San Antonio contributed to this report.