WASHINGTON — Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson today suggested that the GOP is responsible for the growing border crisis because it has not approved the Senate’s June 2013 immigration rewrite that is backed by President Barack Obama.
He suggested that migrants are now crossing the border while wrongly hoping they will be included in the amnesty that is part of the Senate’s bill.
“There is a lot of anticipation [among potential migrants] about what comprehensive immigration reform would do, but it needs to be clear [to new border-crossers] that if the Congress acts on the pending legislation, the earned path to citizenship is for those who have been in the country now for a year and half, not those who are crossing today,” he said.
The “earned path to citizenship” is the White House’s preferred term for amnesty.
“If Congress acts, I believe we would know our immigration law landscape for years, if not decades,” he said at an afternoon press conference.
If the GOP approves the massive rewrite, border officials will also have extra resources “as well as stability in the law,” he said.
Johnson also used the conference to to deliver two additional conflicting messages to two other critical audiences.
He sought to reassure Americans who are worried about the growing wave of migrants. “I’m not encouraging in any way, shape or form illegal migration, that’s not the message,” he said, revealing his public relations priority.
He also signaled mixed support to a huge number of Latinos in Central America and in the United States who may want to send their children north in the hope they will be given permission to live in the United States.
He said the new migrants would not be eligible for the Senate’s amnesty, nor for the president’s 2012 “Deferred Action for Childhood Migrants” mini-amnesty. But he also said repeatedly that they would be treated very well, and would be allowed to make their case for residency in the administration’s immigration courts.
GOP leaders have blocked the Senate’s bill, which is Obamas top legislative priority. The bill would double the annual flow of two million guest workers and immigrants into the United States. It would also provide more money for border security and includes sections that could help establish a national “E-Verify” system for businesses to check the work-eligibility of prospective employees.
Since April a growing river of youths and families from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador has turned into a flood of migrants who are crossing the border in the hope of winning the administration’s permission to stay.
Agency officials expect the flood of children and youths to reach 90,000 by October, and 140,000 in the following 12 months. The agencies have not released data about the number of additional adults who are bringing other children to the United States.
GOP critics say Obama’s decision to weaken immigration enforcement has caused the new wave of migrants. In 2013, Obama only allowed officials to deport 0.2 percent of the 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States who had also not broken other laws. This month, he announced plans to renew a 2012 youth-amnesty program that has already awarded work permits to more than 560,000 illegal immigrants.
Since April, the flow of families and youths has grown rapidly, and media outlets are now saying that 1,000 people are crossing the border each day. If that rate continues, the combined inflow by October would exceed 150,000.
Almost one in five of the 28 million people living in the three Central American countries would like to migrate to the United States, according to a 2013 Gallup survey. That adds up to a potential inflow of five million people, assuming the flow is not augmented by roughly 130 million additional people in other countries that Gallup estimates wish to live in the United States.
The inflow may have damage Obama’s already poor poll numbers. For example, it will grow the nation’s labor supply, even though millions of older Americans have given up looking for work, and millions of younger Americans can’t get a decent job to start a family or buy a house.
Roughly one in eight American men — or 10 million men — between 25 and 54 do not have full-time jobs, even as the country has imported 10 million guest workers and 13 million immigrants from 2000 to 2013.
Johnson and several deputies pitched their three discordant messages in a short press conference, which was held in a small, windowless room without any wireless connections in a federal building. The officials only answered a few reporters’ questions.
Officials refused to say how many adults are crossing the border, or to reveal the number of youths who have already been given permission to stay by immigration judges.
Some media reports, based on leaks from actual border officers, say that two-third of the illegal immigrants are adults — with or without children — even though the administration is justifying its lax policies by saying the border-crossers are young, unaccompanied children.
Johnson did not say how many of the border-crossers are older teenagers, but he did say he allocated more resources to help border-crossers after he met a 10 year-old girl who said she was looking for her father.
Officials also declined to say if any or all of the migrant youths would be deported via scheduled deportation proceedings.
As Johnson left the short press event, reporters complained loudly that officials did not offer needed information about the rising wave of illegal immigration.
The mixed message given by Johnson to Latino parents may be a political balancing act for Obama, who wants to spur Latino turnout in the 2014 election, but does not want swing-voters to be alarmed by the growing wave of migrants.
For example, he also offered some warnings to parents who are considering sending their children to live in the United States. “To those who may have children in Central America … illegal migration is not safe. A processing center is no place for your child,” he warned, while also saying the youths were not eligible for Obama’s 2012 DACA nor the amnesty in the immigration bill.
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.