Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson has published an open letter in Spanish-language newspapers warning parents against letting their children cross into the United States illegally.
In the letter, which ran over the weekend, Johnson said the trip is becoming more dangerous, with no path to citizenship waiting for those who make it into the United States.
"The long journey is not only dangerous; there are no ‘permisos,’ ‘permits,’ or free passes at the end," he wrote, according to an English translation.
Johnson's letter is part of an intensifying effort by the Obama administration to stem the large influx of unaccompanied children streaming into the United States.
More than 9,000 unaccompanied alien children crossed over the border in May, with more than 50,000 since October. Many of them have come from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, which are plagued by violence and crime.
White House officials have recently acknowledged some of the thousands of children seeking refuge are coming, in part, because they mistakenly think they would be allowed to stay in the country because of President Obama’s policies on deportations.
The administration has taken a number of steps to respond to the increase, and Vice President Biden was in the region last week to push back on the idea that citizenship is available to children who cross illegally.
"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 op-ed.
He added: "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 — to them, your child is a commodity to be exchanged for a payment."
Many children are psychologically abused on the trip, while some others are "beaten, starved, sexually assaulted or sold into the sex trade," Johnson said, warning that conditions crossing the border will become worse in the hotter months of July and August.
Specifically, Johnson attempted to combat the perception that the administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program applies to children arriving today. Instead, it only applied to those children who came to the country illegally before 2007. Similarly, he warned that the Senate-passed immigration bill — which has not become law — would only give some individuals a path to citizenship if they arrived before 2011.
He said anyone caught crossing the border illegally today is a priority for deportation.
"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," he said.