(Adds details on children, comment from Honduran first lady,
By Gabriel Stargardter
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras, July 14 The United
States deported a group of Honduran children on Monday in the
first flight since President Barack Obama pledged to speed up
the process of sending back illegal immigrant children from
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, aged
between 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 flight departed as Obama faces increasing pressure to
address the surge of unaccompanied minors.
Immigrant advocates have called on the president to address
the humanitarian needs of the migrants. Republicans in Congress
have blamed the crisis on Obama's immigration policies and have
called on him to secure the border.
Obama's 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.
Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have suffered from gang
violence and the predations of Mexican drug cartels using the
region as a staging post for their trafficking operations.
Honduran President Juan Hernandez, in an interview published
on 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,"
Ana Hernandez said as she awaited the children at the airport.
Obama's administration projects that without government
action, more than 150,000 unaccompanied children under the age
of 18 could flee the three nations next year.
The proposed actions will test Obama's ability to negotiate
effectively with Republican lawmakers who have blocked much of
his agenda ahead of a November election when they hope to
capture the U.S. Senate from his Democratic Party.
(Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia in San Pedro Sula and
Julia Edwards in Washington; Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by