Flooded with a wave of immigrants from Central America, the Obama administration announced Friday it will open new facilities to house families caught crossing the border illegally.
Alejandro Mayorkas, deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said about 39,000 adults with children have been taken into custody since Oct. 1. Without a place to keep them — and with many not from Mexico where they can simply be sent back across the border — the government has simply processed them and released them at bus stations throughout the Southwest with orders to report at a future date to immigration officials.
That process has resulted in a firestorm of protest from Arizona officials, including a threat by Attorney General Tom Horne to sue.
The transfer of families who were apprehended in Texas, where there has been a surge of migrants, has since stopped, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement is still processing and releasing in Arizona families taken into custody in this state.
Mayorkas said the detention facilities would supplement the existing capacity, which is currently fewer than 100 beds. But he said no decision has been made how many new sites would be set up, how many families they could hold and where they would be located.
“We will work to ensure, of course, that the detention of adults with children is done as humanely as possible and in an appropriate setting that meets legal standards,” he told reporters Friday in a conference call.
Mayorkas said his agency is not simply looking at putting more people into detention while they await deportation hearings. He said he intends to speed up the process, adding immigration judges, attorneys and asylum officers.
“When an individual's case is fully heard and it is found that the individual does not qualify for asylum, he or she will be immediately removed,” Mayorkas said. “Many individuals from Central America are found to be ineligible for these forms of protections and are, in fact, promptly removed.”
The move comes as House Speaker John Boehner on Friday asked the administration to deploy National Guard troops to the border.
There is precedent for that. Four years ago the administration authorized 1,200 soldiers to be deployed, albeit in support roles versus actually patrolling the border.
Mayorkas said he is reviewing Boehner's request, but he suggested that putting Guard troops along the Southwest border does not exactly fit in with the administration's plan for dealing with the problem.
He said the idea is to “make the process more efficient” while addressing the claims of those who are seeking asylum and removing those “who are not claiming credible fear.”
“So that is not a process in which the National Guard is involved,” Mayorkas said.
The administration is also making efforts to stop the flow at the source, even sending Vice President to Guatemala, one of the main sources of families and unaccompanied children who have flooded across the border into Texas.
Cecilia Munoz, an assistant to President Obama and director of the Domestic Policy Council, said part of the reason for that trip is to “deal with misinformation that is being deliberately planed by criminal organizations, by smuggling networks, about what people can expect if they come to the United States.” She said Biden wants to make it clear that those who arrive now are ineligible for any existing or anticipated program that will allow them to stay.
But the administration also is hoping to use money to stem the flow at its source, including:
- $40 million to improve citizen security in Guatemala, working to reduce youth involvement with gangs and address factors that cause them to leave;
- $25 million for new youth outreach centers to serve at-risk youths susceptible to gang recruitment and migration;
- $18.5 million to support community policing and law enforcement to confront gangs and other sources of crime.
There also is another approximately $96.5 million toward overall security programs, plus $9.6 million to help the three countries deal with citizens who are sent home.
Richard Zuniga, a senior official at the National Security Council, also said that President Obama had called Enrique Pena Nieto, his Mexican counterpart “to discuss our shared responsibility in dealing with this matter.”
That figure of 39,000 adults with children since Oct. 1 is above and beyond the approximately 52,000 unaccompanied children who have been taken into custody in the same time.