McALLEN, Texas — White House officials, saying that misinformation about administration policies helped drive the surge of Central American migrants crossing illegally into South Texas, on Friday announced plans to detain more of them and to accelerate their court cases so as to deport them more quickly.
Also Friday, Vice President Joe Biden met in Guatemala with senior leaders of the three countries where most of the migrants come from — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — to secure their help in conveying the message that there are no new legal channels to come to the United States and that illegal crossers will be deported.
Department of Homeland Security officials are rushing to open more detention centers intended for families with children caught coming illegally to the U.S. and will expand the use of monitoring devices to keep track of migrants after they are released, the officials said.
Immigration officers and judges will be reassigned on an emergency basis to speed cases in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, where most of the migrants are entering illegally.
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The administration is trying to quell rampant rumors reaching Central America that U.S. border authorities are offering entry permits to parents traveling with young children after they are caught. Officials hope that by increasing the numbers of migrants who are detained and then deported, others considering the trip will be dissuaded from doing so.
Biden announced $255 million for Central America to assist repatriation programs for deportees, improve prosecution of gang members, and expand youth programs to reduce gang recruitment.
Until now, White House officials have insisted that extreme poverty and an epidemic of gang violence in those Central American countries were the main causes of the unanticipated spike in illegal migration.
But many migrants told Border Patrol agents they decided to set out for the United States after hearing that it was offering some kind of entry permit. Many other migrants who asked for asylum after being apprehended have been allowed to stay temporarily, further fueling hopes that Central American women and children were receiving special treatment.
On a conference call with reporters, Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said the administration was moving to “push back” on “misinformation that is being deliberately planted by criminal organizations, by smuggling networks, about what people can expect if they come to the United States.”
In Guatemala, Biden met with that country’s president, Otto Pérez Molina; the president of El Salvador, Salvador Sánchez Cerén; and senior officials from Honduras and Mexico. But he got a taste of the disconnect the United States often has with regional leaders, who fault the failure of U.S. immigration policy for driving children to join their parents in the United States no matter the cost. In his public remarks, Pérez Molina, while recognizing that the U.S. Congress has to act, repeated a request for a temporary-worker program and a way for Guatemalans living in the United States illegally to be able to stay.
The Honduran president, Juan Orlando Hernández, sent a top aide to the meeting but skipped it himself to watch Honduras play in the World Cup in Brazil.
52,000 children caught
The new U.S. funding includes $40 million over five years for Guatemala to improve neighborhood security programs, $25 million over five years for El Salvador to open 77 youth centers offering alternatives to joining gangs for teenagers and $18.5 million for Honduras for police training.
The sharp increase of migrants arriving illegally includes more than 52,000 minors caught at the border since October without their parents.
Obama, saying the surge is a humanitarian crisis, has ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate an effort to maintain detention shelters for them and help reunite them with relatives in this country.
Border authorities have also apprehended more than 39,000 adults with children since October, a record number.
Since there are no detention facilities for families in the Rio Grande Valley, the Border Patrol has been releasing them without bond, giving them only an order to appear in immigration court for deportation hearings and allowing them to travel to relatives living in the United States.
Migrants have been confusing the notice to appear in court — the immigration equivalent of an indictment — with a permit to stay and have sent word to Central America that they received permits to remain, prompting more to embark on the journey across Mexico.
Officials said they would open more detention centers as soon as they could find buildings that met federal requirements for detaining children.
The administration is also sending more immigration officers who specialize in asylum cases to the Rio Grande Valley to make quicker initial determinations on whether migrants are fleeing persecution and might be eligible for protection here.
Immigration judges will be reassigned on an emergency basis to hear asylum petitions and other cases of migrants in detention, Justice Department officials said.