52,000 unaccompanied children, mainly from Central America, has arrived in the United States since last October, in addition to 34,000 adults with children, according to new figures released as Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson toured a former Air Force barracks in Texas which is now a temporary home for more than a thousand children.
Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told 1200 WOAI news officials are 'surging' their capacity to deal with the growing problem.
"This will allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement to return unlawful migrants who are ordered removed to their home countries," he said. "Additional immigration judges, attorneys, and asylum officers are being dispatched to deal with claims of asylum, and if an adult does not meet the qualifications for asylum he or she will be immediately removed."
He says many adults as part of the wave from Central America have already been ordered deported.
"With very few exceptions, all adults apprehended including adults with children are placed in removal proceedings," he said.
In addition, Ricardo Zuniga, Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs in the National Security Council, says steps are being taken in Central America to remove the cause that many of the immigrants say is driving them to the U.S., which is a surge in violent crime and gang activity in their home countries.
He says nearly $85 million in foreign aid is being provided to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to 'improve citizen security.'
"We have been working with the governments of these countries from the beginning of this increase in migration, and in all cases there has been a high level of interest in working with us, because they know that we are all interested in preventing the dangerous migration of young children," Zuniga said. "They all have an interest in making sure their citizens are well taken care of."
There are also programs underway in Central America to counter claims being made by smuggling gangs, who are collecting fees from desperate individuals largely by claiming that U.S. policy toward refugees from Central America is similar to the policy toward Cuban refugees, that once they get to the U.S. they will be allowed to stay.
"That message is being deliberately planted in Central America by smuggling networks about what people can expect if they come to the U.S.," Cecilia Munoz, the White House Director of Domestic Policy said from McAllen Texas, where she is accompanying Johnson on his border tour. "That is an attempt to deal with this problem at its source, so work with countries to stem the tide of this misinformation."
Zuniga said it is critical that 'facts surrounding U.S. immigration policy are well understood.'
"Those countries have also undertaken public messaging, and the governments themselves are making it clear that minors who are traveling will not be eligible for deferred action or comprehensive immigration reform," he said.
Mayorkas says officials are 'pursuing additional facilities' to house adults and children involved in the surge, making sure that facilities meet legal requirements, and he said 'additional locations will be announced as the decisions are made.' He said no decision has been made on particular facilities where the refugees will be housed.
Mayorkas said it is very important to stress that deportations of individuals who are arriving as part of the flood of immigrants are continuing.
"Those removals are accomplished via flights," he said. "That process continues."
Officials also downplayed calls by House Speaker John Boehner to send the National Guard to the border.
"We are apprehending these individuals, so the question before us is how can we make the process more efficient, and how best can we address those individuals in terms of their humanitarian claims as well as the removal of those who are not claiming credible fear," he said. "That is not a process in which the National Guard is involved. We will review the letter from Speaker Boehner and will review it to understand how they envision the role of the National Guard would be."