Jeh Johnson: Welfare State Doesn't Draw Illegal-Alien Children to U.S.

By Penny Starr | June 13, 2014 | 5:25 AM EDT

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson spoke about the U.S. government's response to the growing number of youth crossing the border illegally on June 12, 2014 in Washington, D.C. ( Starr)

( – Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the wide range of services the government is providing to unaccompanied minors who cross the border into the U.S. illegally will not encourage more of them to break the law.

At a press conference on Thursday at Customs and Border Protection headquarters in Washington, asked Johnson whether giving these children everything from transportation to housing, health care, education and even legal representation, is an incentive for more “unaccompanied minors” to come to this country.

“I would say no,” Johnson said. He noted that these children, most from Central America, are not eligible for the two-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program -- recently renewed for two more years - that give temporary legal status to people who came to the U.S before they turned 16; have continuously lived in the U.S. from 2007 to the present; and who entered the U.S. before June 2012.

Johnson also warned parents about the dangers of sending children – most of whom come from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras -- into south Texas, where the greatest surge of these minors is taking place, according to Customs and Border Protection.

“Frankly, it is also hazardous to send a child into south Texas to a processing center. A processing center -- and a number of us here have seen them ourselves – are no place for children,” Johnson said. “And to put a child into the hands of a criminal smuggling organization is not safe either.

“So, yes, we provide a number of things for children when we find them because the law requires it and because our values require it,” Johnson said. “But it is not safe; it is not a desirable situation, and I would encourage no parent to send their child, or send for their child, through this process.”

By law, HHS and its various divisions must provide for the custody and care of unaccompanied alien children.

The services include classroom education, mental and medical health services, case management, socialization and recreation, and "family reunification," which facilitates the child's release to a relative or other sponsors.

In May 2014, HHS noted that on average, between 7,000 and 8,000 unaccompanied, undocumented minor children are served annually; but "this number jumped dramatically"  in fiscal year 2012 (Oct. 2011 through Sept. 2012), when 13,625 unaccompanied minors were served by HHS's Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Since then, the "overall increase has continued," HHS said, resulting in 24,668 unaccompanied minor children flooding into this country in fiscal 2013; and the projection for fiscal 2014 was at least 60,000 as of May; now perhaps as high as 90,000.

Earlier this week, Johnson told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he is "concerned and closely monitoring a substantial increase in the numbers of unaccompanied children," who have overwhelmed this country's ability to deal with them. The U.S. is now retrofitting U.S military bases to care for them, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been directed to coordinate response efforts.

The Obama administration says violence in Central America is largely responsible for the flood of children illegally pouring into the Rio Grande Valley, but others, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), say the problem is a direct result of President Obama's executive orders relaxing U.S. immigration policy -- specifically, DACA.

"[M]idway through 2012 was when administration unilaterally granted amnesty to some 800,000 people who had been minors, with the so-called DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] proceeding," Cruz told Johnson at a Senate hearing earlier this week. "And you can see, sometime after that, the numbers (of unaccompanied minors) spike dramatically."

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) says the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border "is the direct and predictable result of actions taken by President Obama. He and his Administration have announced to the world that they will not enforce America’s immigration laws, and have emphasized in particular that foreign youth will be exempted from these laws. The world has heard the President’s call, and illegal immigrants are pouring across the border in pursuit of his promised amnesty.

"President Obama is responsible for this calamity," Sessions said, "and only by declaring to the world that our border is no longer open -- and that the law will be restored -- can this emergency be stopped."