WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Obama administration is grappling with a surge in child migrants at the southwestern U.S. border, some accompanied by parents and some traveling alone.
Seeking to escape poverty and drug and gang violence in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, tens of thousands of children have attempted to enter the United States illegally in recent months. The crisis is putting strains on the U.S. budget because of the cost of providing shelter and food for many children now held in detention centers, while federal authorities evaluate whether and how to deport them.
Here is a look at the scope of the problem and steps the White House is taking to address it:
- More than 52,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America have been caught trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border since October, twice as many as a year earlier. Thousands more have been detained with parents or other adults.
- Without government action, the Obama administration projects more than 150,000 unaccompanied children under the age of 18 could be fleeing their Central American homelands for the United States next year.
- While boys are most likely to make the journey, there has been a rise in the number of girls and very young children crossing the border alone.
- Immigrant children are being held temporarily at three military bases: Joint Base San Antonio in Lackland, Texas; Naval Base Ventura County in California; and Fort Sill in Oklahoma. The facilities have a combined capacity of nearly 3,000 beds. The average stay is less than 35 days.
- Children are subsequently placed with a relative or sponsor and are instructed to go through immigration proceedings, during which they face a possible deportation order.
- To house mothers traveling with children, federal officials have opened a temporary detention center for 700 people in Artesia, New Mexico, at a federal law enforcement training center.
- To speed up deportations, the Justice Department is reassigning immigration judges to cases involving newly arrived minors and they are prioritizing those cases ahead of non-detained adults without children. [ID:L2N0PJ1MC]
- To discourage parents from sending children to the United States, the State Department has launched an ad campaign in Central America and Mexico to try to dispel rumors that the children will able to stay.
- The State Department is working with the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to understand the source of the problem as well as with Mexico to interrupt smuggling routes.
- President Barack Obama has asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funds to pay for temporary detention centers, increased border security and additional immigration court judges.
- The White House wants Congress to change a 2008 anti-trafficking law requiring lengthy deportation proceedings for children arriving from countries that do not share a border with the United States. The change would allow authorities to quickly deport newly arrived children, as takes place with children from Mexico and Canada. The majority of Mexican children are turned back within a day of their arrival, said U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske.
Reporting by Julia Edwards in Washington and Alex Dobuzinkis in Los Angeles; Editing by Caren Bohan and Tom Brown