A White House plan to deal with the influx of migrants illegally crossing Texas’ southern border is being met with criticism by progressive immigrants’ rights groups and conservative lawmakers.
The Obama administration announced on Friday that it will begin keeping more undocumented immigrants in detention centers and expedite deportation proceedings in response to the skyrocketing number of migrants crossing into Texas. It will also reiterate to Central Americans that children who make it onto U.S. soil do not qualify for relief from deportation. Critics of the plan say the solution is either inhumane or doesn't go far enough to stanch the flow of immigrants.
Since October, the Rio Grande Valley sector of the U.S. Border Patrol has apprehended more than 160,000 undocumented immigrants, including more than 33,500 unaccompanied minors. During the 2013 fiscal year, about 154,000 undocumented immigrants were apprehended, according to the office of Gov. Rick Perry.
“We are surging government enforcement resources to increase our capacity to detain individuals and adults who bring their children with them and to handle immigration court hearings – in cases where hearings are necessary – as quickly and efficiently as possible, while also protecting those who are seeking asylum,” states a fact sheet from the office of Vice President Joe Biden. “That will allow ICE to return unlawful migrants from Central America to their home countries more quickly.”
An official with the city of McAllen confirmed that the U.S. Border Patrol has already requested permits to use buildings in that city as temporary detention centers.
The number of immigrants flooding across the southern border has forced Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to release thousands of migrants to shelters operating in the Rio Grande Valley. Some have also been flown to El Paso for processing and later released to churches, immigrant advocacy centers and Salvation Army centers.
The federal government also announced on Friday that it will use more ankle bracelets to track undocumented immigrants who have been released, and it will reassign immigration judges to the Rio Grande Valley from other parts of Texas to process detainees more quickly.
Neither immigrants' rights groups or lawmakers have received the plan positively.
“Returning to mass family detention and deportation policies is a giant step backwards," said Bob Libal, the executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based group that opposes private immigration detention centers and advocates for immigration reform.
“Families fleeing violence in their home countries, many of whom are asylum seekers, should be released whenever possible and as a last resort, housed in home-like facilities, that are not run by ICE nor private for-profit prisons," said Barbara Hines, a co-director at the University of Texas Immigration Law Clinic.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who has said the crisis is a result of the administration’s refusal to secure the border, said in a statement that Americans should not be convinced about the White House's effort until they see results.
“After years of ignoring the law and sending a very dangerous message to Central American families, the Administration is finally taking small steps to address this enormous problem,” he said. “Now, it remains to be seen if the President will follow through.”
The New York Times reported on Friday that the administration has conceded that misinformation about U.S. immigration laws has helped spur the influx. The Obama administration had previously said that most of the migrants were fleeing violence and poverty.
On Thursday, Earl Anthony Wayne, the United States ambassador to Mexico, said in a statement that criminal groups were partially to blame.
“Some immigrants, including these growing numbers of children, are attempting to cross the border without documentation under the mistaken impression that if they arrive in the United States they will be allowed to stay,” he said. “Senior U.S. officials, including the Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, have made clear that this is not true. However, traffickers and smugglers, often associated with organized crime, are using this misinformation to entice more potential migrants.”
On Friday, the White House also announced that it has allocated about $9.6 million to help Central American countries “reintegrate” citizens who return home.