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DHS forms interagency group to tackle crush of central American immigrants

The DHS has announced the creation of an inter-agency group to address the large influx of unaccompanied children entering the U.S. from Central America. The U.S. Border Patrol has said it has arrested more than 47,000 unaccompanied children over the past eight months, a 92 percent spike from the same period a year earlier.

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has appointing Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate as the Federal Coordinating Official. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will maintain primary responsibility for border security operations at and between ports of entry and, working with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), will provide for the proper care of unaccompanied children when they are temporarily in DHS custody, according to the DHS.

DHS will continue to coordinate closely with the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), State, Defense, the General Services Administration and other agencies, “to ensure a coordinated and rapid government-wide response in the short-term and to undertake broader, longer-term reforms to address the root cause behind these recent migration trends,” DHS said in a statement.

“There is a problem of humanitarian proportions in the Rio Grande Valley Sector,” said Secretary Johnson. “We have already taken a number of steps to address this issue with the goal to quickly and safely transport the unaccompanied children into the hands of HHS in a safe and humane manner, pursuant to the requirements of the law.”

The U.S. government will also continue to work closely with the governments of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to counter the surge.

“FEMA is supporting our inter-agency partners to address the immediate needs of unaccompanied children,” said FEMA’s Fugate. “Additional facilities have been stood up, medical teams have been deployed, and transportation is being coordinated. FEMA is supporting future planning efforts to assist capacity development to achieve the goal of no child in CBP facilities for more than 72 hours.”

“The safety of the children and the safety of the American public are our foremost concerns,” said Assistant Secretary for the Administration for Children and Families Mark Greenberg. “We are currently using multiple temporary facilities, including Joint Base Lackland in Texas, Naval Base Ventura in California and Fort Sill Army Base in Oklahoma to provide a safe environment for children in our care.” Facilities to hold the influx of children have been strained, according to reports.

Many young immigrants are fleeing violence and poor economic conditions in their home countries. Some blame the tide on rumors below the border, however, that there could be immigration reform in the U.S. Still others have pointed to the DHS’s policy of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Under DACA, many children who enter the country through no fault of their own and are in good standing can stay in the country for at least three months before any deportation actions commence. President Obama took the action to relax such laws in 2012.

Still, some Administration officials have made statements recently emphasizing that the law will not apply to all children.

Some lawmakers have blamed the Obama Administration for the influx. “The recent surge of children and teenagers from Central America showing up at our Southern border is an Administration-made disaster and now President Obama is calling in FEMA to mitigate the damage,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). “Word has gotten out around the world about President Obama’s lax immigration enforcement policies and it has encouraged more individuals to come to the United States illegally, many of whom are children from Central America. Illegal border crossing is extremely dangerous and many of these children encounter drug and human traffickers along the way. Enforcement at the border and in the interior of the U.S. is crucial to end these kinds of situations, not another bureaucratic task force.”

The House Judiciary Committee intends to hold a hearing on the issue in the coming weeks, Goodlatte said.


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