WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Friday announced tens of millions of dollars of new funding and expanded enforcement facilities to step up efforts to deal with the surge of children arriving illegally from Central America.
The United States said it would launch a $40 million program to improve security in Guatemala to reduce pressures forcing flight to the United States and a $25 million program to provide services to youth in El Salvador who are vulnerable to organized crime pressure, the White House said in a statement.
The Obama administration also said it would provide a “surge” in immigration judges, lawyers and asylum officers to quickly decide what happens to people apprehended at the border.
Washington has mobilized to address a flood of children arriving illegally at the southwest border in what President Barack Obama has called an urgent humanitarian crisis. The president spoke about the problem on Thursday with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, and Vice President Joe Biden was in Guatemala on Friday to discuss the issue with Central American leaders.
“The administration remains greatly concerned by the rise in unaccompanied children from Central America,” the White House said in a statement.
Cecilia Munoz, the White House domestic policy director, said in a conference call that Friday’s measures were designed to help Central American countries stem the migration.
They also aim to “deal with the misinformation that is being deliberately planted by criminal organizations, by smuggling networks, about what people can expect when they come to the United States,” she told reporters.
The administration also announced $9.6 million in additional support to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to help them receive and reintegrate people who are sent back.
Alejandro Mayorkas, deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said the additional resources would allow the government to increase its capacity to detain people and to handle immigration court hearings. He said the extra staff will allow U.S. authorities to return unlawful migrants from Central America to their home countries more quickly. He did not provide numbers or say who would pay for them.
From October to June 15, 52,000 unaccompanied children arrived on the U.S. border with Mexico, Mayorkas said. DHS is looking for more facilities to house the minors, he said.
Republicans blame the influx of children on Obama’s 2012 decision to give temporary relief from deportation to some young people brought to the United States illegally by their parents.
House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner urged Obama on Friday to deploy the National Guard to handle the children and relieve the taxed Border Patrol. The White House’s Earnest rejected that idea, saying there are already “significant enforcement resources” deployed along the border.
Democratic Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez criticized the National Guard idea as “a naïve and aggressive knee-jerk reaction that is completely inappropriate in these circumstances.”
Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Roberta Rampton and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Jonathan Oatis