Obama administration officials are wielding a powerful bullhorn to warn Central American parents against sending their unaccompanied children to the United States.
Since the weekend, newspapers, radio and television stations and websites in Central America and Mexico have aired U.S. warnings to parents that their children would be deported if they make their way past the Rio Grande into Texas.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson issued a statement Sunday, widely printed in Monday’s newspapers in the region, calling on parents to heed the dangers of letting their children go off alone to cross international borders.
“To the parents of these children I have one simple message: Sending your child to travel illegally into the United States is not the solution,” Johnson said in the statement.
“The criminal smuggling networks that you pay to deliver your child to the United States have no regard for his or her safety and well-being,” Johnson said. “To them, your child is a commodity to be exchanged for a payment. 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.”
A surge of more than 52,000 unaccompanied minors, the majority from the Central American nations of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, have crossed into the United States since Oct. 1, creating what President Barack Obama calls a “critical humanitarian situation.”
On Monday, several high-ranking Spanish-speaking White House officials talked on the record about how unaccompanied migrant children would most likely end up deported back to their home countries.
Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said in a conference call to media that “the vast majority of these cases probably will result in return to their countries” of origin, although children with a compelling argument to remain in the United States would be allowed to do so, according to the website of Excelsior, a Mexico City newspaper.
Another Obama administration official, Esther Olavarria, said the children allowed to remain would be few in number.
“There is no-permission, as Cecilia said. They are not eligible for deferred action and are not eligible for the immigration bill that is pending before Congress,” said Olavarria, who is Homeland Security’s deputy assistant secretary for policy.
The U.S. ambassadors to Honduras and El Salvador, Lisa Kubiske and Mari Carmen Aponte, have both urged governments to act more firmly to halt the flow of migrants.
Kubiske publicly scolded Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez last week for remaining in Brazil to watch his nation’s team play a World Cup match rather than return to Central America for a meeting with Vice President Joe Biden.
“I know that he is in Brazil and that there is a very important game, but there are priorities for the nation that require the presence of the top leader,” she was quoted as saying on Uploadhonduras.com, a bilingual website in Honduras.