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White House Announces Immigration Reform Efforts, Response to Increase in Unaccompanied Children, Families


President Barack Obama announced on June 30, 2014, that because House Speaker John Boehner has told him that Republicans in the House of Representatives will not pursue immigration reform legislation this year, he has directed Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Charles Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder to identify administrative actions that can be taken “to try to fix as much of the immigration system as possible.” He said he does not “prefer taking administrative action,” and that he takes executive action “only when we have a serious problem…and Congress chooses to do nothing.”

Noting that “there are enough Republicans and Democrats in the House to pass an immigration bill today,” President Obama said he had “held off on pressuring them for a long time to give [House Speaker John] Boehner the space he needed to get his fellow Republicans on board” with immigration reform legislation.

President Obama also sent a letter on June 30 to congressional leaders asking that they “work with me to address the urgent humanitarian challenge on the border, and support the immigration and Border Patrol agents who already apprehend and deport hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants every year.” The letter notes, among other things, that the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security are deploying additional enforcement resources, including immigration judges, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement attorneys, and asylum officers, “to focus on individuals and adults traveling with children from Central America and entering without authorization.” Shelters have been opened at three military bases, according to reports. The letter states that the Obama administration will submit a related “formal detailed request when the Congress returns from recess.”

Also, on June 20, President Obama directed DHS and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate a government-wide response to the increase in unaccompanied children entering the United States from Central America. A White House fact sheet said the first priority “is to manage the urgent humanitarian situation by making sure these children are housed, fed, and receive any necessary medical treatment.” The fact sheet notes that the United States will also increase enforcement and partner with “our Central American counterparts in three key areas: combating gang violence and strengthening citizen security, spurring economic development, and improving capacity to receive and reintegrate returned families and children.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, “We’re going to open up some additional detention facilities that can accommodate adults that show up on the border with their children. And we’re going to deploy some additional resources to work through their immigration cases more quickly, so they’re not held in that detention facility for a long time, and hopefully [will] be quickly returned to their home countr[ies].” He blamed much of the influx on misinformation intentionally “propagated by criminal syndicates in Central America.”

In Guatemala, Vice President Joe Biden recently met with regional leaders to address the increase in unaccompanied children and adults coming with their children to the United States and to discuss efforts “to address the underlying security and economic issues that cause migration.”

The Obama administration announced the following related efforts:

  • The U.S. government will provide $9.6 million in additional support to Central American governments for receiving and reintegrating their repatriated citizens. “This funding will enable El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to make substantial investments in their existing repatriation centers, provide training to immigration officials on migrant care, and increase the capacity of these governments and non-governmental organizations to provide expanded services to returned migrants.”
  • In Guatemala, the United States is launching a new $40 million U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) program over five years to improve citizen security. “This program will work in some of the most violent communities to reduce the risk factors for youth involvement in gangs and address factors driving migration to the United States.”
  • In El Salvador, the United States is initiating a new $25 million Crime and Violence Prevention USAID program over five years that will establish 77 youth outreach centers in addition to the 30 already in existence. “These will continue to offer services to at-risk youth who are susceptible to gang recruitment and potential migration.”
  • In Honduras, under the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), the United States will provide $18.5 million to support community policing and law enforcement efforts to confront gangs and other sources of crime. In addition, USAID will build on an existing initiative to support 40 youth outreach centers by soon announcing a substantial new Crime and Violence Prevention program.
  • USAID is calling for proposals to support new public-private partnerships through the Global Development Alliance to increase economic and educational opportunities for at-risk youth in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
  • The United States also plans to provide $161.5 million this year for CARSI programs “that are critical to enabling Central American countries to respond to the region’s most pressing security and governance challenges. On an ongoing basis, the United States is providing almost $130 million in ongoing bilateral assistance to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala for a variety of programs related to health, education, climate change, economic growth, military cooperation, and democracy assistance.
  • The United States is collaborating on campaigns to help potential migrants understand the significant danger of relying on human smuggling networks and to reinforce that recently arriving children and individuals are not eligible for programs like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and earned citizenship provisions in comprehensive immigration reform currently under consideration in the U.S. Congress.
  • The Department of Justice and DHS are taking additional steps to enhance enforcement and removal proceedings. This includes increasing detention of individuals and adults who bring their children with them and handling immigration court hearings “as quickly and efficiently as possible while also protecting those who are seeking asylum.” The fact sheet says this will allow U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to return unlawful migrants from Central America to their home countries more quickly.
  • The fact sheet notes that in FY 2013, ICE removed 47,769 undocumented individuals who came to the United States from Guatemala, 37,049 from Honduras, and 21,602 from El Salvador. This represents approximately 29% of all ICE removals.

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