Illegal immigrants from Central America are surging across the U.S.-Mexico border because they believe they can take advantage of American immigration policy and gain at least a tentative foothold in the country, according to an internal Border Patrol intelligence memo.
The immigrants come seeking “permisos,” which apparently are the “notices to appear,” the legal documents given to non-Mexicans caught at the border, according to the memo, which was viewed by The Washington Times and raised several times Wednesday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Those notices officially put the immigrants into deportation proceedings. The immigrants usually are released to await a court date, giving them a chance to fade into the shadows in the interior of the U.S.
“This information is apparently common knowledge in Central America and is spread by word of mouth and international and local media,” the memo reads. “A high percentage of the subjects interviewed stated their family members in the U.S. urged them to travel immediately, because the United States government was only issuing immigration ‘permisos’ until the end of June 2014.”
Agents on May 28 interviewed more than 200 non-Mexicans who were apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley, asking why they came to the U.S. and whether they had family in the country.
The memo conflicts with the Obama administration’s public stance that the surge of unaccompanied minors and young women with families is a result of spiking violence in Central America, not lax enforcement in the U.S.
“These are countries which are experiencing a great deal of violence. What we hear from the children themselves is violence,” a senior administration official told reporters this week.
The Border Patrol memo cites multiple reasons, including a rise in gang-related violence back home, but says the main factor is the rumor of a free pass in the U.S.
“Although economic and security concerns also influenced their decision to travel to the U.S., the issuance of ‘permisos’ to family units was the primary reason for leaving their countries,” the memo says. “The subjects also indicated that ‘everyone’ in their home countries is aware that ‘permisos’ are being issued to family units in south Texas.”
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, testifying to the Judiciary Committee, was asked repeatedly about the memo but told lawmakers he hadn’t seen it. He did, however, dispute its conclusions.
“I’m not sure I agree that that is the motivator for the children coming into south Texas. I think it is primarily the conditions they are leaving from,” he said.
He also acknowledged that some of the border jumpers may be motivated by “uncertainty” stemming from U.S. policy and the bill the Senate passed last year that would grant legal status to most illegal immigrants in the U.S. — though not to recent arrivals.
“I do believe that if comprehensive immigration reform is passed, then the uncertainty that may be existing in people’s minds about our law will be resolved,” he said.
All sides of the immigration debate say the situation with the children is untenable.