- The Washington Times - Friday, June 20, 2014

The Obama administration promised an enforcement “surge” on the southwest border last week to combat the flood of children and families trying to get into the U.S. illegally, saying that adding more judges to decide cases will allow the government to kick people out of the country faster.

But critics, even those who have previously expressed support for some aspects of immigration reform, say the move further exposes the administration’s poor record on border security and raises new doubts about whether the White House can be trusted to enforce the law.

“If you don’t secure the borders, there’s nothing until we secure the borders, because the borders are not secure. We’re not enforcing the law. And I think that’s a reasonable position. Until that’s secure, you can’t have an immigration” reform law, said Rep. Kevin McCarthy, California Republican and newly elected House majority leader. Mr. McCarthy made his comments during an interview on Fox News Sunday.

The so-called “surge” announced Friday was a striking turnaround for an administration that had previously said the southwest border was more secure than it had ever been.

Officials also said they are reaching out to Latin American countries to ask them to try to gain a handle on the children and young families that are fleeing from Central America. Officials said they will provide U.S. taxpayer funding to help El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala warn against trying to make the journey, and to help them accept back their citizens once they’ve been deported.

“We are surging our enforcement resources,” said Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.

The announcement came as Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was in Guatemala, meeting with that country’s president, Otto Perez Molina. The two men on Friday discussed the flood of immigrants making their way to the U.S., with Mr. Perez Molina saying the roughly 11,000 Guatemalan children who have made the trek have done so at great “risk” to themselves.

As Mr. Biden was meeting with Mr. Perez Molina, the White House promised $9.6 million for Central American governments to accommodate their own deported citizens, and individually promised $40 million for Guatemala, $25 million for El Salvador and $18.5 million for Honduras to try to combat the violence that all sides agree is pushing many residents to flee north.

The U.S. will also spend $161.5 million on the Central American Regional Security Initiative, with that money going to try to stop youths from joining gangs and to promote job training.

In Guatemala, Mr. Biden stressed that the underlying causes of mass emigration from South America and Central America must be addressed.

“This is a serious humanitarian issue all by itself. … It is a fundamentally shared problem for the United States, Mexico and this entire region,” the vice president said, then addressed Mr. Perez Molina directly.

“But I want to make clear, Mr. President, the United States recognizes that a key part of the solution to this problem is to address the root causes of this immigration in the first place,” he said. “Especially poverty, insecurity and the lack of the rule of law, so the people can stay and thrive in their own communities, so a parent doesn’t feel so desperate that they put their child in the hands of a criminal network and say, ‘Take him, and take her, to the United States.’ ”

Back in the U.S., officials said they will open new family detention centers to hold parents coming across the border with their children. While U.S. law calls for children traveling without parents to be sent to social workers and eventually placed with families, parents who come with children are eligible to be detained.

The new detention facilities, however, drew criticism from Democrats who said they didn’t believe immigration detention facilities were the appropriate place for children.

On enforcement, the administration also promised a surge in officers to hear asylum cases. The faster the cases are heard, the faster those who don’t qualify can be sent home, the administration said.

But officials were skeptical of House Speaker John A. Boehner’s call earlier Friday to deploy the National Guard to help the Border Patrol manage the surge.

Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said immigration is a matter for his department, which must apprehend them, process them and end up adjudicating their cases.

“That is not a process in which the National Guard is involved,” he said.

The administration has said those coming across the border now are not eligible for legal status under either the legalization bill pending in Congress or under President Obama’s non-deportation policies.

But officials acknowledged Friday that many could qualify for asylum, which will grant them legal status.

And the administration wasn’t able to say how many people are being put in deportation proceedings, nor how many of them have shown up for their court hearings.

Republican critics said they’ll take a wait-and-see approach to Mr. Obama’s latest enforcement promises.

“Unfortunately this humanitarian crisis is one of the president’s own making,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican. “After years of ignoring the law and sending a very dangerous message to Central American families, the administration is finally taking small steps to address this enormous problem. Now, it remains to be seen if the president will follow through.”

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