Sharp rise in migrants crossing the border illegally has overwhelmed US immigration agencies
The White House has announced it will open more detention facilities to temporarily house migrant families caught crossing the US border illegally, along with new aid programs to funnel millions of dollars to Central American countries in an attempt to tamp down gang violence and “reintegrate” migrants the US deports to their home countries.
A sharp rise in migrants crossing the border illegally has overwhelmed US immigration agencies. US vice-president Joe Biden was scheduled to speak in Guatemala on Friday about the humanitarian crisis driving the migrants north and the impact it is having on US border towns.
Up to 1,000 new migrants a day are flowing across the US-Mexico border in an immigration surge caused by violent drug cartels in countries such as Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, according to border patrol officials. An especially high proportion of the new migrants are unaccompanied children. Most are ferried through dangerous routes by smugglers.
“Our first priority is to manage the urgent humanitarian situation by making sure these children are housed, fed and receive any necessary medical treatment. We also are taking steps to improve enforcement and partnering with our Central American counterparts in three key areas: combating gang violence and strengthening citizen security, spurring economic development and improving capacity to receive and reintegrated returned families and children,” Biden’s office said.
White House officials blamed human traffickers for causing the crisis. “So much of what we are seeing on the southern border is the result of a deliberate misinformation campaign that is propagated by criminal syndicates in central America,” said Obama spokesman Josh Earnest.
“That misinformation is causing some people who are in a rather desperate situation to risk their lives to come to the US border expecting that they will be able to stay in this country. That is simply not true.”
Officials rejected criticism that the administration was itself encouraging increased immigration attempts by proposing a path to citizenship for currently undocumented migrants.
Instead, the White House argues that its plan for comprehensive immigration reform would help make the appeals process more efficient and prevent the dangerous perception that undocumented migrants can simply fall through the cracks.
“The inefficiency of our legal immigration system is not irrelevant here,” added Earnest. “If we did have a much better functioning legal immigration system, as is currently contemplated by the current reform proposal, that would contribute to solving this problem. It probably wouldn’t solve it entirely but there is much more that can be done.”
The administration did not say where it would place the new detention centers. It currently houses migrants in border patrol facilities and US military bases across the south-west. After a tour of two border patrol facilities this week, the Associated Press described a crowded station not meant for long-term custody, filled with unaccompanied children in the custody of an agency ill-equipped to care for them.
Dozens of young boys were divided from dozens of young girls. Mothers with children still younger were in another cell.
In New Mexico, some of the families caught crossing the border together illegally will be housed by the Catholic church, advocates said Friday.
Thomas Baca, executive director of Catholic Charities in Las Cruces, told AP that close to 300 people will be housed at a parish in Anthony after they are released by federal immigration authorities.
“Right now we are working on raising money, applying for grants and getting the parish ready so people can take showers,” Baca said.
The Diocese of Las Cruces expects to house around 280 people, he said. The Diocese of El Paso already is housing around 300 migrants, Baca added.
In Richmond, Virginia, an elected official speaking anonymously to the Associated Press said a plan to shelter hundreds of children there had been scrapped after local opposition.
The decision came after a public meeting in Lawrenceville, Virginia, where hundreds of people attended and an overwhelming number spoke out against the proposal.
Meanwhile, the leader of the US House of Representatives urged Obama to send troops to the Mexican border.
In a letter to the president, John Boehner blamed Obama administration policies for the huge increase in migrants and said the president must act.
“The policies of your administration have directly resulted in the belief by these immigrants that once they reach US soil, they will be able to stay here indefinitely,” Boehner wrote.
For its aid programme to Central America, the administration will $74.6m over the next five years for programs to prevent at-risk youth from joining the gangs and to reintegrate returned migrants. Part of the aid would go toward more than doubling the number of youth outreach centers in El Salvador, from 30 already in existence to 77 supervised by the US Agency for International Development.
In Honduras, $18.5m will benefit the Central American Regional Security Initiative, a program to “confront gangs and other sources of crime.”
Another $161.5m will go to “rule of law” programs in the countries, “including activities to prevent at-risk youth from joining gangs and encouraging their involvement in community crime prevention efforts and programs to expand education and job training.”
The fact sheet said that the administration would collaborate on, “campaigns to help potential migrants understand the significant danger of relying on human smuggling networks,” and would try to make migrants aware they would not be eligible for measures such as DACA.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is a measure enacted by executive order in 2012. Children brought to the country when they were under 18 years old before 2007 are eligible for deferred deportation. Children crossing the border in the most recent surge of immigrants would not be eligible for deferred deportation.
In his letter to Obama, Boehner said the US military should help ensure the safety of the children and their families. And he said the State Department should work with Central American nations to help speed processing times to return children and families to their countries and to make sure that people know of the dangers of heading north.
“While we understand that many of these individuals are coming to this country to escape violence and hardship in their home country, the current climate along the border and our enforcement policies are only encouraging them to risk their lives and those of their children. It is time that we confront the crisis along the border head-on through immediate and aggressive action.”
Boehner made no mention in his letter of immigration legislation and the House appears to have no inclination to move on it, particularly after the surprise primary defeat last week of Majority Leader Eric Cantor at the hands of a conservative who accused him of supporting “amnesty.”