(CNSNews.com) – Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told the Senate Homeland Security Committee Tuesday that more must be done to address the problems in Central America that have led to an uptick in unaccompanied children attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, because “there’s only so much border security you can accomplish” to deal with people who are motivated to leave their homes to travel to the U.S.
“We have to do more in Central America, which is the heart of the problem. Just in my 26 months in office, I have learned that as long as you have powerful underlying push factors – poverty, violence, drought, and the like – there’s only so much border security that you can accomplish – whether it’s more personnel or more walls to deal with people who are motivated to leave their homes and travel thousands of miles to come here,” Johnson said.
Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said although the numbers of all unaccompanied children apprehended while trying to cross the border in 2015 was lower than 2014, the trend in 2016 is projected to be 10 percent higher than 2014 numbers.
According to DHS statistics, there were 68,541 unaccompanied minors (UACs) apprehended along the southwest border in 2014. According to DHS, there were 39,970 unaccompanied minors apprehended in 2015.
DHS reported 20,455 UACs apprehended in Fiscal Year 2016 during the time period of Oct. 1, 2015 to Jan. 31, 2016, compared to 10,105 UACs apprehended during the same time period for Fiscal Year 2015.
Chairman Johnson projected the number of UACs will be 10 percent over the FY 2014 numbers of 68,541.
“That’s about 78,000. Now that’s including Mexican children as well,” Chairman Johnson said. “Mexico is four times the population of Central America, and yet Mexican unaccompanied children are somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of the problem.
“So that’s why I isolate unaccompanied children from Central America, because we treat them differently. I’m trying to figure out what’s the best way to address this problem, what’s the best way to reduce the flow,” he said.
“We have to take a look at the incentives, which of course you see deferred action of childhood arrivals is one of them, the length in adjudication process under the Feinstein amendment, the fact that when unaccompanied children from Central America get here, they’re apprehended. They’re processed. They’re dispersed, and they basically stay,” Sen. Johnson said.
The numbers for unaccompanied children from Central America are even worse this year compared to 2014, Sen. Johnson said.
Sen. Johnson noted that “in the first four months, with just unaccompanied children from Central America, we’re up 49 percent over the first four months in 2014 when it was a crisis. We’re up 49 percent, which would imply - you can run the numbers out – about 77,000 unaccompanied children from just Central America if that would hold.”
“The crisis has not been averted. It isn’t getting better. It’s getting worse, even over 2014. Yeah, it came down in 2015, but the early indications of the first five months of 2016 is going to be worse than 2014, and that’s my point,” Sen. Johnson said.
“Are you acknowledging the fact that this is still an enormous problem, and we are not – from my standpoint – addressing the root cause and our public policy ought to be what can we do to stem the flow, not figure out how we can more efficiently process and disperse, but how do we address the incentives that is incentivizing people to come here,” the chairman asked.
The DHS secretary said no one at DHS, Customs and Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Health and Human Services believes a crisis has been averted.
“First of all, nobody in DHS, CBP, ICE or HHS is feeling as if a crisis has been averted. Whether it’s 75,000, 68,000, or 39,000, that’s a whole lot of kids. That creates a real problem for us. It overwhelms my resources, HHS’s resources and taxes a lot of other resources,” Jeh Johnson said.
“I do think that the comparative to 2014 is imperfect in that there was a certain trend that existed in 2014 that doesn’t exist in 2016. The numbers in January and February 2014 were considerably higher than the numbers in January and February 2016,” Secretary Johnson said.
“Now having said that, much of this is seasonal, so I think we have to assume that March is going to be higher than February and April’s probably going to be higher than March, and May, June, July will probably do what it typically does, so we have to assume that we’re not going to see numbers as low as 3100 for the rest of this fiscal year, which is why our budget request assumes 75,000 UACs in 2016,” he said.
“Now, I agree with you that you can put a lot of border security at this effort to deal with kids who are not seeking to avoid capture, and there’s only so much you can do by way of border security, immigration enforcement,” the DHS secretary said.
“However, I do believe that it is important that people in Central America see that people are being repatriated back to Central America, which is why we’ve been very visible about our efforts in recent months, and I do agree with you, chairman, that the underlying factors need to be addressed,” he added.
“I’m pleased that Congress appropriated $750 million for Central America, and I am impressed with the new president of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales. I hope you had a chance to meet him when he was here a couple weeks ago,” Secretary Johnson said, adding that Morales is “a dynamic leader.”
“I have some optimism for that country given the new leadership there, but we have to do more, and we are seeking to do more to help those in Central America with their border security through training programs and the like, through vetting programs,” Secretary Johnson said.
“We have to do more in Central America, which is the heart of the problem. Just in my 26 months in office, I have learned that as long as you have powerful underlying push factors – poverty, violence, drought, and the like – there’s only so much border security that you can accomplish – whether it’s more personnel or more walls to deal with people who are motivated to leave their homes and travel thousands of miles to come here,” he added.