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White House dispels rumors of 'permisos' for migrant kids

Struggling with the summer's influx of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America, the White House is trying to staunch the flow using diplomatic pressure, funding and a public relations campaign. 

Late last week, officials told reporters that the administration would provide $9.6 million in aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to fund programs to repatriate those deported from the United States.

A second effort through the U.S. Agency for International Development will send $40 million to Guatemala, $25 million to El Salvador, and $18.5 million to Honduras for crime prevention and security measures. 

The two programs dovetail with a public relations campaign by the administration, which included an open letter by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson published over the weekend in Spanish language outlets. 

The letter, published in Spanish attempted to dispel "misperceptions" about U.S. immigration policy, including rumors of the existence of "permisos" or passes that would allow unaccompanied minors to stay in the United States. 

"The long journey is not only dangerous; there are no 'permisos,' 'permits,' or free passes at the end," wrote Johnson after describing the perilous trip that children may face on their way to the United States. 

"The U.S. Government’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also called 'DACA,' does not apply to a child who crosses the U.S. border illegally today, tomorrow or yesterday.  To be eligible for DACA, a child must have been in the United States prior to June 15, 2007 – seven years ago," Johnson wrote.

"Also, the immigration reform legislation now before Congress provides for an earned path to citizenship, but only for certain people who came into this country on or before December 31, 2011 – two and one half years ago," he wrote.  "So, let me be clear:  There is no path to deferred action or citizenship, or one being contemplated by Congress, for a child who crosses our border illegally today."

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"Rather, under current U.S. laws and policies, anyone who is apprehended crossing our border illegally is a priority for deportation, regardless of age. That means that if your child is caught crossing the border illegally, he or she will be charged with violating United States immigration laws, and placed in deportation proceedings – a situation no one wants. The document issued to your child is not a 'permiso,' but a notice to appear in a deportation proceeding before an immigration judge." 

Johnson ended the letter noting, "As the Secretary of Homeland Security, I have seen first-hand the children at our processing center in Texas. As a father, I have looked into the faces of these children and recognized fear and vulnerability."

"The desire to see a child have a better life in the United States is understandable. But, the risks of illegal migration by an unaccompanied child to achieve that dream are far too great, and the 'permisos' do not exist." 

Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden visited Guatemala and met with officials Central America and Mexico to discuss the influx of nearly 47,000 children, while President Barack Obama spoke to Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto over the weekend. According to Reuters, the administration has pressed the Mexican government to close its border with Guatemala. 

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AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool

Young boys sleep in a holding cell at the CBP Nogales Placement Center last week.

“The desire to see a child have a better life in the United States is understandable. But, the risks of illegal migration by an unaccompanied child to achieve that dream are far too great, and the ‘permisos’ do not exist.”

— DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson