Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson warned Central American families on Wednesday that “there is no free pass” in the U.S. immigration system after touring an Arizona facility holding hundreds of children apprehended at the border in recent weeks.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who long criticized the Obama administration’s immigration policies, toured the converted warehouse in Nogales with Johnson and declared that the government is not doing its job in stifling the overwhelming surge in children illegally migrating to the U.S.
“Dang it, the federal government has got a job to do,” she said.
Thousands of Central American families and unaccompanied children in recent months have fled violence, murders and extortion by criminal gangs in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Many are under the impression that they will receive leniency from federal authorities once they arrive in the U.S.
Johnson said that is not the case. “I want to continue to emphasize to all those who are listening, including the parents of kids, parents that may be considering sending their kid from Central America, that this journey is a dangerous one and at the end of it there is no free pass, there is no ‘permisos’ for your children to come to the United States,” he said.
But while he has vowed to spread his message, Brewer said the federal government is not doing enough to stop the migration.
About 900 children are being held in the Nogales facility, where they will be processed and turned over to the custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services while undergoing removal proceedings. They are often reunited with relatives in the U.S. before their cases play out in court.
Johnson said the children have adequate care.
Johnson has kept mum about how many children have been sent to Arizona, how many have been released and how many have reported back to immigration officials as required.
Immigration officials have also released a large number of women with children who crossed the border illegally into Texas, dropping them off at Greyhound stations in Phoenix and Tucson with the expectation that they will report back within 15 days. Officials have declined to say how many have actually reported back.
Border Patrol agents have apprehended more than 52,000 immigrant children crossing the border since the start of the budget year last October. That included 9,000 in May alone.
Most have been caught in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, where authorities have run out of space and resources to process the children.
The surge in crossings has prompted the Department of Homeland Security to fly many of the children to Arizona for processing. The department is also using military bases in Texas, California and Oklahoma to house the children before they are placed with a parent or relative.
Other facilities are being set up in Artesia, N.M., home the Border Patrol training academy is, and Tucson, Ariz.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.