The Obama administration plans to stop the influx of unaccompanied children crossing the border through increased deportation measures, President Obama announced on Sunday.
During a taped interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Obama said that the children who have been streaming over the American border — mostly from Mexico and the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras — will only be provided care for as long as it’s legally mandated, and then will be sent back to their countries as soon as possible.
At the same time, the administration told the New York Times on Saturday that it would request Congress for $2 billion in emergency funds in order to stem the influx, such as stepping up deportation efforts and sending more immigration judges to South Texas.
“Our message absolutely is don’t send your children unaccompanied, on trains or through a bunch of smugglers,” Obama explained to Stephanopoulos. “We have to house these kids and take care of them until the machinery under current law allows us to send them back … Do not send your children to the borders. If they do make it, they’ll get sent back.”
Under a 2002 human trafficking law signed by former President George Bush and reauthorized again in 2008 with additional protections, Mexican unaccompanied children apprehended crossing the border are automatically returned without formal deportation proceedings because the two countries share a border. But unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala cannot be sent back without going through the deportation process, since that law ensured that America wouldn’t send kids back to a dangerous situation. (Honduras, for example, has experiences increased gang violence in 40 percent of its territory, while violence against females is surging in Guatemala.) Authorities must instead process these children and determine whether they have credible proof that they cannot return to their countries of origin. Central American children are given basic care like medical screenings in processing centers before being placed with relatives or foster care until they can appear in front of immigration judges.
On Monday, President Obama plans to send a letter asking Congress to authorize $2 billion to speed up the deportation proceedings of unaccompanied children. More details of the plan will be sussed out when Congress comes back from its Fourth of July recess.
The funds aim to “eliminate delays in deporting children determined to have no legal option to stay,” White House officials told the New York Times, and include revising “existing statutes to give the Homeland Security secretary, Jeh Johnson, new authorities to accelerate the screening and deportation of young unaccompanied migrants who are not from Mexico.” Obama will also request tougher penalties for smugglers who bring children across the border, a “sustained border security surge,” and an increase in immigration judges.
Despite the increased deportation efforts, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously determined through a series of interviews with 404 children that 58 percent of unaccompanied minors “raise potential international protection” claims to refugee protections under international law.
The administration has already moved to make the repatriation transition back into the three Central America countries easier. Last week, the administration said that it would provide a large aid package to help ensure the successful reintegration of returning children in their countries. Among some of the major programs that the aid package will help fund include reducing “the risk factors for youth involvement in gangs and address factors driving migration to the United States” in Guatemala, establishing youth outreach centers that deters gang recruitment and potential migration in El Salvador, and establishing youth outreach centers and supporting “community policing and law enforcement efforts to confront gangs and other sources of crime” in Honduras.