June 20 (Bloomberg) -- The Obama administration unveiled measures to handle a surge of undocumented immigrants entering the U.S. -- particularly unaccompanied children -- by adding border enforcement personnel and funding repatriation efforts.
The U.S. plans to spend $9.6 million to help Central American governments repatriate citizens who’ve crossed into the U.S. illegally. The money is intended to enable El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to expand existing repatriation centers and services, according to a White House statement.
President Barack Obama’s administration is confronting what it says is a growing humanitarian crisis on the nation’s southern border because of a flood of unaccompanied children entering the U.S. illegally.
Cecilia Munoz, White House director of domestic policy, blamed the increase in unaccompanied children attempting to cross the border in part on “misinformation” about immigration law and administration actions regarding minors that “is being deliberately promulgated by criminal networks” involved in smuggling aliens into the U.S.
Vice President Joe Biden flew to Guatemala today to meet with the presidents of Guatemala and El Salvador on the issue. During the flight, he discussed the matter by phone with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, according to a statement issued by Biden’s office.
Biden is using the trip to stress to the Central American public that newly arriving migrants won’t qualify for legalization under proposed U.S. immigration legislation, according to Ricardo Zuniga, a senior director on the White House National Security Council.
The vice president is making clear that they won’t qualify for Obama’s executive order deferring deportation of undocumented immigrants who arrived as minors, Zuniga said during a conference call with reporters.
Biden told reporters in Guatemala City today that youths are relying on smugglers who abuse them physically and sexually, according to a White House transcript.
Biden said that he and the leaders he spoke with agreed that “the current situation is untenable and unsustainable” and that it’s a matter of “shared responsibility.”
Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio sent a letter to Obama urging him to deploy the National Guard to assist with border enforcement. He blamed the influx on the president’s immigration policies, saying they “have directly resulted in the belief by these immigrants that once they reach U.S. soil, they will be able to stay here indefinitely.”
Alejandro Mayorkas, deputy secretary of the Homeland Security Department, said there are enough resources to secure the border and the challenge is dealing with humanitarian claims, “so that is not a process in which the National Guard is involved.”
As of June 15, 52,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended along the southwest border since Oct. 1, according Mayorkas. He didn’t provide comparable numbers for the period the prior year.
Mayorkas told reporters on the conference call that the department is “surging our resources” to put more immigration officers, immigration judges and Immigration and Customs Enforcement attorneys at border regions to deal with the influx.
U.S. law requires Customs and Border Protection to transfer unaccompanied undocumented children to Health and Human Services Department personnel within 72 hours of them being detained. Earlier this month, the U.S. opened facilities to house the children at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and at Naval Base Ventura County near Oxnard, California.
Mayorkas said the Homeland Security Department is “actively and aggressively pursuing additional facilities” to detain unaccompanied children.
The administration asked Congress earlier this month for $1.6 billion for the HHS budget for the Unaccompanied Alien Children program.
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