But he repeatedly said that foreign children would be helped by the U.S. government once they cross the border.
He said that federal law requires the border agencies to transfer unaccompanied minors to the Department of Health and Human Services, which must act in the best interests of the foreign child.
He declined to acknowledge or set any limits on the U.S government’s duty to foreign youths, but repeatedly suggested that children and youths should be sent to live with a mother or father living in the United States, even if they were illegal immigrants.
“Family unification for a child is something that is critical, so I want to see every child with a parent who is able to take care of him and the law requires we do what is in the best interest of the child, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.
Once the youths cross the border, “our goal is to quickly and safely transport the children … into a safe and secure environment that is in the best interests of the children, pursuant to the requirements of the law,” he said.
Pending unification with a parent or sponsor, unaccompanied youth and children are being fed and cared for, he said.
He said he has acquired extra aircraft to transport the youths from the border are to boarding facilities, including at military bases, and said they’re getting mental-health care and health checks-ups.
Illegal immigrants who are living in the United States, said one of Johnson’s deputies, can send a “family friend” to pick up their children from the government’s processing centers. That answer came in response to a reporter from a Spanish-language media outlet, who said that illegal immigrants are concerned they may be arrested and deported when they try to pick up their children from the government center.
Johnson said the new border-crossers would be required to go through routine immigration law courts, but he did not say they would be deported.
He said the youths are “priorities for removal,” but he also reiterated Obama’s recent decision that immigration officials would refocus their efforts of illegals who have also committed serious crimes. “I still believe there are improvements we can make in how we enforce our immigration laws and in how we execute on our priorities to better ensure we are removing those who represent the biggest threats to public safety, border security and national security,” he said.
In the last several days, White House spokesman Josh Earnest has twice suggested that youths would be allowed to stay. “These unaccompanied minors… are going through the immigration process to determine how to return them to their home countries or to otherwise handle their immigration status,” Earnest said on June 10.
Obama’s deputies are recruiting taxpayer-funded lawyers to help the foreign youths use the immigration courts.
The immigration court judges that decide whether the youths can stay are appointed by Obama.
Moreover, Johnson did not announce any imminent or major effort to stem the migrant flow northwards. He said officials are running a media campaign to warn would-be migrants, but did not describe the scale or cost of the media campaign.
He said he would fly to Guatemala to meet with top government leaders, but he said he would make that flight in the middle of next month, and he did not announce any plans to meet with top leaders in El Salvador or Honduras.
He did not announce plans for a high-profile statement by the president, which would likely be heard by most or all would-be immigrants.