The Obama administration will curb the number of unaccompanied, undocumented children crossing the U.S. border with Mexico, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said.
“Our message to those who come here illegally: Our border is not open to illegal migration, and we are taking a number of steps to address it, including turning people around faster,” Johnson said today on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
President Barack Obama on June 30 asked Congress for emergency funds and legal authority to stem the rising flow of children into the U.S. and said legislation may be needed to increase penalties for people smuggling them.
More than 52,000 unaccompanied children have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border this fiscal year through June 15, about double the number in a similar period in fiscal 2013, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Most of the children are smuggled through Central America and Mexico, according to the White House.
“We are looking at ways to create additional options for dealing with the children in particular, consistent with our laws and our values,” Johnson said.
Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto, in an interview with Charlie Rose that aired on PBS last week, pledged to help put an end to a surge in child migration to the U.S., attributing the jump to organized crime gangs that smuggle people across the border.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest has said “criminal syndicates” are fueling the surge in immigrants by propagating rumors of U.S. amnesty.
Republicans are blaming the influx of undocumented children on Obama’s policies, including a program that prevents youths with longstanding ties to the U.S. from being deported.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, said that he’s warned the Obama administration for more than two years about unaccompanied children showing up at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“This is a failure of diplomacy, it is a failure of leadership from the administration in Washington, D.C.,” Perry said on ABC’s “This Week.”
The Obama administration needs to “immediately deport these families, these children,” Representative Raul Labrador, an Idaho Republican, said on NBC.
“I know it sounds harsh, I know it sounds difficult, but they’re creating a crisis at this time that is actually going to harm these children,” Labrador said.
Obama administration officials are “one step behind” and “should have seen this coming a long time ago,” Representative Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat who represents a border district, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Obama plans to seek more than $2 billion in funding after lawmakers return this week from recess. That represents an increase of $400 million from plans the administration announced last month.
The White House request comes as a broad rewrite of immigration laws is stalled in Congress. Obama also said June 30 that he’ll resort to executive action on U.S. immigration rules because House Republicans won’t hold a vote on legislation to revamp the system.
“There are a number of things that the president and I, within the confines of existing law, can do to fix the broken immigration system, and we will,” Johnson said. “If Congress doesn’t act, we will.”
Johnson said that the administration would work to fix flaws in the Secure Communities program, which facilities the transfer of local arrestees to federal immigration officials.
Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, proposed other solutions. “Send these children back to their homeland, tell the countries in question, ‘if you don’t keep them and take care of them, we’re going to cut all aid off,’” Graham said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program.
Democratic lawmakers and activists are pressing the president to halt deportations for the almost 12 million undocumented immigrants already in the country who would benefit under a stalled Senate bill. The Republican-led House last year refused to vote on legislation approved by the Senate that would have cleared a path to citizenship for many in the U.S. illegally. Some House Republicans say it amounts to amnesty.
“I am really getting fed up with some of the critics of this administration, particularly from House Republicans,” Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democratic leader, said on CBS. “They had the opportunity for one solid year to call the immigration reform bill, and yet they refused to.”
Republican leaders outlined guidelines for piecemeal immigration legislation at their annual retreat in January, starting with increased border security and including a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants.
Despite months of work, including by close allies of House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Republicans haven’t found an approach that could garner a majority vote from within their party.
What little momentum advocates had was hurt by Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s primary election loss in Virginia last month to challenger David Brat, who was backed by local activists aligned with the limited-government Tea Party movement.