The Obama administration announced Friday that it was taking several steps to "surge" more resources to the US-Mexico border to address the wave of migrants from Central America — many of whom are unaccompanied children, or parents with young children.
The government says that since October, Border Patrol agents have already apprehended 52,000 unaccompanied child migrants (as of June 15th) and 39,000 adults with children (as of May 31st). The majority of unaccompanied children are coming from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador; while there isn't data on where families are coming from, reports indicate that many of them are coming from Central America as well.
So here are three steps the government announced it was taking today to address the issue:
1) Hearing asylum claims from adults quickly — and deporting them immediately if they lose their cases
The issue: Under international law, the government is required to hear the case of anyone who "credibly" fears going back to his home country, to see if he qualifies for asylum.
But because that process goes through the immigration courts — which had a years-long backlog even before this current Central American "surge" — it's impossible for the government to act quickly to deport someone who doesn't quite meet the standards for asylum.
What DHS is doing: DHS announced today that it's deploying more immigration judges, Immigration and Customs Enforcement lawyers (who act as prosecutors in immigration court cases), and asylum officers to work on the asylum claims of Central American adults without children. Furthermore, DHS says, if the government hears an asylum case and determines the immigrant doesn't qualify for asylum, he'll be immediately deported.
2) Detaining more families, and monitoring the rest
The issue: At the moment, many immigrants who get apprehended are given a "Notice to Appear" in immigration court (which starts the deportation process) and then released until they show up for their court date. In fact, reports last week showed the government was just dropping off busloads of immigrants at Greyhound stops in Arizona, without water, food, or guidance about what to do next.
What DHS is doing: There's currently only one immigration detention facility that's suitable for families: a former nursing home in Burks County, Pennsylvania. DHS announced today that it is "actively working to secure additional space to detain adults with children apprehended crossing the border," in the words of Deputy DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Families who aren't being physically put in detention are going to be "monitored" using "alternatives to detention," like ankle bracelets, to make sure that they're showing up for their court dates.
3) A second "surge" of immigration court officials to deal specifically with families
The issue: If thousands of families are being held in immigration detention facilities, it's even more crucial that their cases be heard quickly — rather than waiting for months or years in a facility that's often jail-like.
What DHS is doing: Once DHS has been able to find suitable family detention facilities, Deputy Secretary Mayorkas said today, it will send an "additional surge" of judges, prosecutors, and asylum officers to focus on the cases of families. Deputy Secretary Mayorkas assured reporters today that DHS would work to process families' cases "both fairly and as quickly as possible."