McALLEN, Texas — The Obama administration, stepping up efforts to reduce the influx of Central American migrants crossing the Southwest border illegally and saying misinformation about its border policies may have helped spur it, will detain more of those migrants and accelerate their cases in immigration courts, so they can be deported more quickly, officials said.
To accommodate the change, Department of Homeland Security officials are rushing to open more detention centers intended for families with children, the officials said. And they will expand use of monitoring devices, such as electronic ankle bracelets, to keep track of migrants after they are released. Immigration officers and judges will also be reassigned on an emergency basis to speed cases in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, where most of the illegal migrants are entering into the United States.
The move comes as the administration is trying to quell rampant rumors throughout Central America that U.S. border authorities are offering entry permits to parents traveling with young children after they are caught. Officials hope that by increasing the numbers of migrants detained and then deported, others considering the trek may be dissuaded from doing so.
Until now, White House officials have insisted that extreme poverty and an epidemic of criminal gang violence were the main causes of the surge in illegal immigration that has brought nearly 200,000 migrants to South Texas this year. They resisted criticism by Republican lawmakers in Congress, who said lax border enforcement had unleashed the surge.
But many migrants told Border Patrol agents that they decided to set out for this country after hearing that the United States was offering some kind of entry permit. Many migrants who asked for asylum after being apprehended have been allowed to stay temporarily, further fueling hopes that Central Americans were receiving special treatment. White House officials are now moving to address those issues directly.
“Misperceptions of how we apply our immigration policies” were among the factors driving the surge, said Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House domestic policy council. “This is a very dangerous trip that people are taking,” she said. “People are putting their children in the hands of smugglers, in the hope or misperception they would be allowed to stay. It’s very unlikely that would be true.”
White House officials announced the measures Friday, as Vice President Joe Biden was meeting in Guatemala with top leaders of the three Central American countries sending most migrants — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — to secure their help in conveying the message that there are no new opportunities to come legally to the United States.
The White House also announced $255 million for the three Central American countries to assist repatriation programs for deportees, improve prosecution of criminal street gang members and expand youth programs to reduce gang recruitment. The money includes $40 million over five years for Guatemala to improve neighborhood security programs; $25 million over five years for El Salvador to open 77 youth centers offering teens alternatives to joining gangs; and $18.5 million for Honduras for police training.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio sent a letter Friday to President Barack Obama calling on him to send the National Guard to reinforce the Southwest border and help protect migrant children, saying their safety was “a matter of paramount importance.”
“The policies of your administration have directly resulted in the belief by these immigrants that once they reach U.S. soil, they will be able to stay here indefinitely,” Mr. Boehner wrote. He also said the administration should press the Central American governments to assist with deportations and should increase resources for immigration prosecutions in the United States, measures similar to those the White House announced Friday.
The sharp increase of illegal migrants in recent months includes more than 47,000 minors traveling without their parents. Mr. Obama, saying the surge in youths had created a humanitarian crisis, has ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate an effort to maintain detention shelters for them and help reunite them with relatives in this country.
The flow also includes unprecedented numbers of parents coming with children, some as young as toddlers. The new measures are focused on those migrants. “We are taking next steps to address the overall surge,” Ms. Munoz said.
Since there are no detention facilities for families in the Rio Grande Valley, the Border Patrol has been releasing them without bond, allowing them to travel to relatives living in the United States, with only an order to appear in immigration court for deportation hearings.
Migrants unfamiliar with the U.S. system have been confusing the notice to appear in court, the immigration equivalent of an indictment, with a permit to stay in the United States. The migrants, mainly women with children, have been sending word back to Central America that they received a permit — in Spanish, a “permiso” — to remain here, prompting more to embark on the journey across Mexico.
The Department of Homeland Security currently has only one facility to hold families, in Berks County, Pa. Officials said they will open more centers for families as soon as they can find buildings that meet federal requirements for detaining children.United States - North America - Central America - Latin America and Caribbean - Barack Obama - District of Columbia - John Boehner - Joe Biden - Guatemala