The Obama administration said on Thursday that thousands of illegal immigrant children pouring into the United States are “priorities for removal.”
The move comes as Obama officials laid out a suite of healthcare, housing, legal and even family reunification services they are providing to the youths.
Republicans have blamed an explosion in the number of unaccompanied illegal children on the president's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, through which deportations have been halted for thousands of younger illegal immigrants.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson sought to make clear that an estimated 47,000 children who’ve flooded across the Southwestern border this year, many escaping violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, are not eligible for relief.
“Those apprehended at our borders are priorities for removal ... regardless of age,” Johnson said, before urging family members to stop sending, or sending for, their children via illegal means.
“Illegal migration is not safe,” he said, later adding, “your child will not benefit from DACA now.”
Johnson also detailed a government-wide response to the influx of unaccompanied child immigrants, which showed that 2014 numbers had almost doubled last year's total of 24,000 by the end of May.
Military bases in Texas, California and Oklahoma have been designated as processing centers for the children, with transportation aided by aircraft borrowed from the U.S. Coast Guard.
Charities, including the American Red Cross, have supplied blankets and hygiene kits, Johnson said.
The children are to be given health screenings and access to legal representation. While many are sent into group home situations, some can be re-unified with family members in accordance with existing protocol, he said.
Johnson pushed back, however, on assertions that the services act an as an incentive for families to send their kids illegally over the border.
“The law requires that we act in the best interest of the child,” he said, adding that sometimes means placing them with family.
Johnson said the administration is intent on slowing the torrent of unaccompanied illegal immigrant youths into the United States. The government is reprising a public information campaign designed to educate citizens of other nations about the dangers of illegal immigration.
The secretary said he is also in talks with officials in foreign countries about ways to address the problem, and would travel to Guatemala this summer.
“We must do something to stem this tide,” he said.