White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Monday said that very few of the young, unaccompanied migrants from Central America who are illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border will qualify for humanitarian relief, and that most of them would eventually be returned to their home countries.
Earnest’s comments on the surge of unaccompanied minors—most of them from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—are the strongest to date so far from the Obama administration, which has been scrambling to address the unprecedented tide of undocumented child immigrants arriving at the Southwest border. That surge—and the administration’s attempts to provide shelter and services for the children and youth—has sparked major political backlash from all corners, but especially from Republican members of Congress.
Since last October, more than 50,000 child migrants have been detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents. That’s more than twice the number in all of 2013. Most of the detentions have occurred in the Rio Grande Valley region along the border between Texas and Mexico. Under federal law, immigration authorities cannot turn away any children arriving from noncontiguous countries. They are entitled to hearings before an immigration judge before decisions about their repatriation are made.
In remarks to reporters on Monday, Earnest said that the White House would soon submit its formal request for $2 billion in funding from Congress to hire more immigration judges in order to speed up removal proceedings, and to bring other resources to the border, including more detention centers.
Though Earnest said that the administration believes few of the children and youth would ultimately meet the criteria that would allow them to remain in the United States, what’s much less clear is how long it will take to actually process so many migrant youth. And while many of them wait for their cases to be heard, they are reunited with parents or other relatives already living in the United States.
Educators who have already had a major increase in the numbers of unaccompanied minors in their schools in recent months told me that they have rarely seen these young people deported.
Photo: Detainees color and draw at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville, Texas. Portable showers, laundry facilities, and a play area are located at the facility. -Eric Gay/Associated Press
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.