On Friday, the White House announced steps to address the growing humanitarian crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border, over which thousands of unaccompanied children have flowed in recent months.
Obama administration officials said the government is planning to open new facilities to detain and house the influx of migrants and ease the burden on detention centres in the Rio Grande Valley where horrifying conditions have been reported. Administration officials also said the government would send more immigration judges and lawyers to the region to bolster enforcement and removal proceedings.
“We are surging our resources to increase our capacity to detain,” Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters on a conference call, emphasising the administration’s aim was to make conditions more “humane.”
Obama administration officials said Friday that, as of June 15, 52,000 unaccompanied children from Central America have been apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border. In addition, border officials have taken into custody 39,000 more adults with children as of May 31.
Hundreds are coming over the border every day, mostly making their way from violence-stricken areas in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The causes for the influx are many, but a large portion are children fleeing increased drug and gang violence.
Over the past several weeks, photos have emerged detailing the nightmarish conditions at border facilities where thousands of undocumented immigrants have been placed after being taken into custody. The Obama administration’s plan is meant to placate critics who have criticised both the conditions in the detention centres and the administratoin’s immigration policies, which detractors say have encouraged more immigrants to come over the border.
In addition to the enhanced security measures, the administration also announced a slew of aid programs to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. They include $US9.6 million in aid for the countries to “receive and reintegrate” their citizens who have been denied entry into the U.S., as well as multi-million dollar crime and violence protection programs in each of the three Central American nations.
The White House’s announcement came just hours after House Speaker John Boehner sent a letter to President Barack Obama, blaming him for the crisis and saying he should send members of the National Guard to the border. Mayorkas argued that wouldn’t help the situation.
The officials did say, though, that the administration would continue to provide outreach to citizens of Central American nations to push back against the perception minors who come over the border will not be deported.
Vice President Joe Biden was in Guatemala on Friday, and he made a call to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández en route. Biden “reiterated that arriving migrants will not qualify for legalization under proposed immigration reform legislation or deferred action for childhood arrivals,” the White House said.
The White House’s move appeared to calm critics, at least for the moment. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) delivered a backhanded compliment to the administration, saying it had taken “small steps” after causing the crisis. Rep. Henry Cuellar, whose office released horrifying pictures of detention centres earlier in the week, also heaped slight praise on Obama for “finally” doing something to address the problem.