Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson penned an op-ed for Spanish-language news outlets over the weekend vowing there will be no "permisos" or "free passes" for illegal immigrant children who are jumping the border.
"The long journey is not only dangerous; there are no 'permisos,' 'permits, or free passes at the end," Mr. Johnson wrote in the English translation of the op-ed.
After several weeks of trying to manage the surge of children at the border, the Obama administration has recently stepped up its efforts to try to cut the flow off at its root in the three Central American countries — El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala — chiefly responsible for the surge.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden made an appeal last week during a visit to Guatemala, and Mr. Johnson's op-ed is even more stern, warning of the dangers of turning children over to smugglers for the harrowing journey through Mexico and across the U.S. border.
"In the hands of smugglers, many children are traumatized and psychologically abused by their journey, or worse, beaten, starved, sexually assaulted or sold into the sex trade; they are exposed to psychological abuse at the hands of criminals. Conditions for an attempt to cross our southern border illegally will become much worse as it gets hotter in July and August," Mr. Johnson warned.
He also says children aren't eligible for President Obama's non-deportation policy for young adult illegal immigrants, and says newcomers wouldn't qualify for the immigration legalization bill pending in Congress.
"Rather, under current U.S. laws and policies, anyone who is apprehended crossing our border illegally is a priority for deportation, regardless of age. That means that if your child is caught crossing the border illegally, he or she will be charged with violating United States immigration laws, and placed in deportation proceedings — a situation no one wants. The document issued to your child is not a 'permiso,' but a Notice To Appear in a deportation proceeding before an immigration judge," Mr. Johnson says.
Those in Central America, however, don't see it that way. For them, the Notice to Appear, or NTA, allows them to be released into the U.S., where they have a chance to apply for asylum and fight deportation — and possibly to disappear into the shadows.
Mr. Johnson's op-ed ran on the Spanish-language EFE wire service; ran in Guatemala-based Prensa Libra, Colombian-based La Patria and several Mexican newspapers and websites; on Univision's website, and in Los Angeles-based La Opinion.
Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill have called for Mr. Obama himself to make a forceful statement, arguing that only he can command the type of attention that would ensure the message would break through to Latin American parents considering sending their children north.
Mr. Johnson is scheduled to testify Tuesday to the House Homeland Security Committee, where Republicans are poised to say the Obama administration's own policies have been responsible for the surge.
"Since October, more than 52,000 unaccompanied children have crossed our southern border and the problem is growing from bad to worse. They are being drawn here as a result of our failed border policies," said committee Chairman Michael McCaul, Texas Republican.
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