Migrant children sent to Honduras

U.S. deports first group since Obama pledged to accelerate border security

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SAN PEDRO SULA, Hon­duras — The United States de­ported a group of Hon­du­ran chil­dren Mon­day in the first flight since Pres­i­dent Barack Obama pledged to speed up the pro­cess of send­ing home il­le­gal Cen­tral Amer­i­can im­mi­grant chil­dren.

Flee­ing vi­o­lence and pov­erty, record num­bers of chil­dren from Hon­duras, El Sal­va­dor and Guate­mala have crossed into the United States over the past year, test­ing U.S. bor­der fa­cil­i­ties and spark­ing in­tense de­bate about how to solve the prob­lem.

Mon­day's char­ter flight from New Mex­ico to San Pedro Sula, the city with the high­est mur­der rate in the world, de­ported 17 Hon­du­ran adult women, as well as 12 girls and nine boys, be­tween the ages of 18 months and 15 years, the Hon­du­ran gov­ern­ment said. Leav­ing the air­port and look­ing happy, the chil­dren slowly got onto a bus, play­ing with bal­loons they had been given.

Dur­ing the eight months end­ing June 15, some 52,000 chil­dren were de­tained at the U.S. bor­der with Mex­ico, most of them from Cen­tral Amer­ica. That was dou­ble the pre­vi­ous year's tally, and tens of thou­sands more are be­lieved to have slipped through. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion proj­ects that with­out gov­ern­ment ac­tion, more than 150,000 un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren un­der age 18 could flee the three na­tions next year.

The flight de­parted as Mr. Obama faces in­creas­ing pres­sure to tackle the surge of un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors. Im­mi­grant ad­vo­cates have called upon the pres­i­dent to ad­dress the hu­man­i­tar­ian needs of the mi­grants. Re­pub­li­cans in Con­gress have blamed the cri­sis on Mr. Obama's im­mi­gra­tion pol­i­cies and have de­manded that he se­cure the bor­der. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has stressed that Cen­tral Amer­i­can chil­dren who cross the bor­der il­le­gally will be sent home, and last week said it would speed up the de­por­ta­tion pro­cess.

In Wash­ing­ton, two Texas law­mak­ers say they will in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion to­day to speed the de­por­ta­tions. Demo­cratic Rep. Henry Cuel­lar and Re­pub­li­can Sen. John Cornyn said in a state­ment that they will pro­pose leg­is­la­tion that would amend a 2008 law meant to pro­tect chil­dren from traf­fick­ing.

While a num­ber of con­gres­sio­nal Dem­o­crats op­pose such a change, Mr. Obama sup­ports it. Re­pub­li­cans in­clud­ing Ari­zona Sen. John McCain say it’s a pri­or­ity as the United States tries to stem the flow of mi­grant chil­dren.

Mr. Obama re­quested $3.7 bil­lion in emer­gency fund­ing last week to help of­fi­cials cope with the in­flux that has strained re­sources along much of the south­ern bor­der. But House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee chair­man Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said Fri­day that $3.7 bil­lion was “too much,” and that Con­gress prob­a­bly won’t pro­vide all of it. On Mon­day, Mr. Rogers said he didn’t know how much money the House will pro­pose, or when the fund­ing mea­sure will be an­nounced. “We are comb­ing through the num­bers,” he said in an in­ter­view.

A House task force led by Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, who trav­eled to Guate­mala over the week­end, plans to give an up­date to House Re­pub­li­cans to­day. Mr. Rogers said a bill may not be an­nounced this week, de­pend­ing on how long it takes the task force to com­plete its work.

In ad­di­tion to re­view­ing the 2008 law, Ms. Granger’s work­ing group is con­sid­er­ing a rec­om­men­da­tion to over­turn Mr. Obama’s 2012 di­rec­tive to stop de­port­ing chil­dren pre­vi­ously brought to the United States il­le­gally by their par­ents, Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee chair­man Mike McCaul, R-Texas, said last week.

The child de­por­ta­tions pro­posal by Mr. Cornyn and Mr. Cuel­lar would al­low U.S. agents to turn back Cen­tral Amer­i­can chil­dren ar­riv­ing at the bor­der. It would pro­vide a court hear­ing for those who don’t vol­un­tar­ily re­turn to their home coun­try, Cornyn spokes­woman Megan Mitch­ell said.

Il­li­nois Sen. Dick Durbin, the Senate’s sec­ond-rank­ing Dem­o­crat, said last week that quickly turn­ing chil­dren away would deny le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion to those flee­ing vi­o­lence and pov­erty. About three-fourths of the chil­dren ar­riv­ing at the U.S. bor­der came from Guate­mala, Hon­duras and El Sal­va­dor. Under cur­rent law, the un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren must be handed over to the Health and Human Ser­vices Depart­ment within 72 hours.

Hon­duras, El Sal­va­dor and Guate­mala have suf­fered from gang vi­o­lence and the pre­da­tions of Mex­i­can drug car­tels that use the re­gion as a stag­ing post for their traf­fick­ing op­er­a­tions.

Hon­du­ran Pres­i­dent Juan Her­nan­dez, in an in­ter­view pub­lished Mon­day, blamed U.S. drug pol­icy for spark­ing vi­o­lence and ramp­ing up mi­gra­tion to the United States. His wife urged the United States to do more to help. “The coun­tries con­sum­ing drugs need to sup­port [us] and take joint re­spon­si­bil­ity be­cause, if there wasn't de­mand, there wouldn't be pro­duc­tion, and we wouldn't be liv­ing like we are," first lady Ana Her­nan­dez said as she awaited the chil­dren at the air­port.

Bloomberg News con­trib­uted.

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