The Obama Administration has revealed new plans to push the deportation of unaccompanied children from Central America who are coming into the United States.
President Barack Obama is asking Congress for the authority to expedite the deportation process — a request that is already drawing fire from immigrant rights groups. Obama also announced Monday that he is asking Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to redirect federal law enforcement efforts on immigration from interior enforcement to the Southwest border.
More than 50 percent of the unaccompanied children who cross the U.S. border say they have parents or other relatives living in the United States, said Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank.
Under a U.S. law passed in 2008, those children must be placed with family members or with foster families while waiting for deportation hearings that can take two or three years to occur, Rosenblum said. He called the recent influx of Central American children "an unintended consequence" of that law.
"It probably is encouraging these children to come," Rosenblum said. He spoke during a conference call of immigration experts organized by The Wilson Center, a non-partisan research group.
The children are crossing the Southwest border in droves partly because their families know they will be able to remain with relatives in the U.S. for years before facing a deportation hearing, analysts said Monday.
On Monday, President Obama sent a letter to congressional leaders saying his administration is eager to work with Congress to ensure that federal officials have the legal authority they need to expedite removal of the children from the United States.
"Initially, we believe this may include providing the DHS secretary additional authority to exercise discretion in processing the return and removal of unaccompanied minor children from non-contiguous countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador; and increasing penalties for those who smuggle vulnerable migrants, like children," The President wrote.
In addition, President Obama said the administration will seek congressional action on an emergency spending bill to pay for "an aggressive deterrence strategy focused on the removal and repatriation of recent border crossers." Part of the estimated $2 billion in funding would pay for more immigration judges to handle deportation cases. There is currently a backlog of more than 360,000 cases.
He wrote that he will submit a detailed request to Congress when lawmakers return from their Fourth of July recess.
After the letter was released, immigrant rights groups condemned the Obama administration's efforts to change the law to allow quicker deportations of children from Central America.
"The president is mishandling a humanitarian crisis by proposing an inadequate speedy removal process that only further jeopardizes vulnerable children fleeing violence and persecution in Central America," said Laura Murphy of the American Civil Liberties Union. "It is imperative that these children receive a fair process to ensure that they are not being returned to life-threatening situations."