WASHINGTON, June 20 (UPI) -- The White House announced plans Friday to stem the surge of unaccompanied children illegally entering the U.S. from Central America.
Officials said President Obama had directed the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to spearhead a coordinated effort to increase enforcement against illegal immigration while caring for the children who are detained and working to return them to their homes.
Some 62,000 unaccompanied children have been detained at the southern border between Oct. 1, 2013 and June 15, 2014. Another 39,000 adults with children had been stopped from October to the end of May.
Republicans have seized on the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program -- which allows children who came to the U.S. illegally and have been here for years to stay and get work permits -- as a root cause of the recent influx in young immigrants.
The White House acknowledged it has led to the misperception that even more children would be allowed to stay, but said that its policies only affect minors who arrived before June 15, 2007, nor would new immigrants be eligible to stay under the Senate-passed legislation that would only apply to those children who came before Dec. 31, 2011.
Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina about the crisis Friday, calling on Molina and his counterparts in El Salvador and Honduras to address the issues that cause parents to send their children on the dangerous journey to see refuge in the U.S.
"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, 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," Biden said.
On Friday, the administration announced several new programs that, in addition to enforcement, were aimed at helping discourage illegal immigration. The U.S. would give $9.2 million to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to improve its repatriation facilities and staff, $40 million in Guatemala to a USAID program to address gangs and other risk factors that drive immigration and another $25 million to a USAID program that would establish 77 youth outreach centers.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, fired off a letter to President Obama earlier this week, demanding a response and pressing for the deployment of the National Guard.
"While we understand that many of these individuals are coming to this country to escape violence and hardship in their home country, the current climate along the border and our enforcement policies are only encouraging them to risk their lives and those of their children," Boehner wrote. "It is time that we confront the crisis along the border head-on through immediate and aggressive action."
But in a call with reporters Friday, Deputy DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that while Boehner's letter would be reviewed, he did not believe the National Guard would be involved.
"It is something that comes within our appropriate jurisdiction and responsibility between the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice," he said. "We, of course, just received the letter from Speaker Boehner and others and we'll review it right away to understand how they envision the role of the National Guard outside the process to which I just referred."