Brewer, Johnson tour Nogales migrant kids shelter
Stressing the dangers of traveling to the United States through Mexico, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson spoke to reporters at a press conference Wednesday morning held in front of the Nogales Border Patrol station after touring the facility where around 900 unaccompanied minors from Central America are held.
A follow-up to his tour of border stations in Texas last week, Johnson arrived in Nogales on Wednesday and was joined by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who toured the Nogales facility with the secretary.
"The kids are not in an ideal situation, but they are being well cared for," Johnson said.
The journey is "hot and treacherous" he said, and he emphasized the dangers that children may face as they travel from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras through the eastern part of Mexico before crossing into the United States in the Rio Grande Valley.
"This journey is a dangerous one and parents are placing their child in the hands of criminal smuggling organizations," said Johnson.
Johnson also repeated his argument that was published in papers throughout Latin America that children entering the United States were in deportation proceedings, and would be a priority for deportation since they were caught along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Johnson also noted that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is not available for the wave of unaccompanied minors entering the United States this summer. The policy requires federal agencies involved in immigration and removal decisions to exercise "prosecutorial discretion" and allow children who came into the United States before turning 16 and were in the United States on June 15, 2012 to stay in the United States.
Deferred Action, he said "is a program for children who have been here for seven years. It is not available for children who crossed today, tomorrow, or yesterday."
"Immigration reform is for those who have been in the country since 2011. The earned citizenship path is not available," he said. "I continue to stress that."
Johnson added that the agency would use everything under the law to deal with the influx and stem the tide of immigrants crossing into the United States illegally, included the nearly 47,000 unaccompanied minors who have flooded through the Rio Grande Valley.
The Rio Grande Valley has been overloaded by the number of children crossing.
More than 37,000 kids, or two-thirds of the number of unaccompanied minors, have crossed into the narrow Texas border sector. While the Tucson Sector's numbers have fallen slightly, the number of children coming through Texas has nearly doubled when compared to last year, even as the number coming from Mexico has dropped.
Johnson said that the administration was developing a process of expedited removal, considering new facilities for detention, and continuing with "extensive engagement" with the Mexican government. Johnson noted that President Obama spoke to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto about this issue over the weekend.
Despite the influx, Johnson rejected the idea that the shift of agents to processing unaccompanied minors in Texas and Arizona had hurt border security.
"We've brought in resources to deal with this situation," Johnson said. "I ask each station chief 'what are you doing to continue to secure the border?' because I want to make sure we're not taking our eye off the ball with border security."
Brewer spoke afterward, noting that the agency was doing a "fantastic job." However, she criticized the administration's handling of border security.
"I tell you, in my opinion this crisis that America is facing is because w have not sent a strong message to these countries that our borders are closed," Brewer said.
According to Brewer the agency is cycling through around 140 children per day and there are around 10 to 20 pregnant girls at any one time.
Brewer said she spoke with six children from Central America along with Johnson in a "formal setting" and talked with them about their experiences. She noted that the kids had given human smugglers around $5,000-$7,000 to help them travel through Mexico to Texas.
"As a mother, it breaks your heart that parents themselves have put their children in harms way," Brewer said. The children, she said, were told by their parents to travel this route and that they could stay once they came to the United States.
While Johnson said he and the governor had a good working relationship and that he "liked her very much," Brewer broadsided the agency, noting that in early March, DHS put out a request for proposals to private companies to help the agency handle 60,000 unaccompanied minors.
"They were not honest and forthright when this started," Brewer said.
Brewer also referenced her battle with the federal government over enforcement of SB 1070, Arizona's strict immigration law, much of which was overturned by the Supreme Court after a long legal battle.
"Dang it, the federal government sued me and I lost," Brewer said.
Early in the month, Brewer lambasted the Department of Homeland Security for transporting and releasing scores of migrant families at Greyhound bus stations in Phoenix and Tucson. In a letter sent to President Obama, Brewer called the move an "unwarranted operation" that endangered the lives of the people released.
Brewer also remained adamant that her office was never informed of the move in advance, saying that she learned about the move through news reports.
Brewer has been hard on the administration's handling of border security. Early last year, she toured the border and reiterated her argument that the border remained unsecured and that "more boots on the ground" were necessary.