US says deportation of children a warning to illegal migrants
The White House said today that Central Americans trying to cross the US border should know "they will not be welcome to this country," a day after the United States deported a planeload of women and children to Honduras.
A charter flight on Monday from New Mexico to San Pedro Sula, the city with the highest murder rate in the world, transported 17 Honduran women, as well as 12 girls and nine boys aged between 18 months and 15 years.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the return of the Hondurans should be a clear signal to those thinking about crossing the border that "they're entitled to due process but they will not be welcome to this country with open arms."
The return of the Hondurans was the most high-profile example of President Barack Obama's struggle to gain control of an influx of child migrants from Central America that is overwhelming immigration resources and leading to scattered protests from people angry at the government for housing some border-crossers in communities around the country.
Organizations working with illegal migrants and Honduran youths said the US flight was largely symbolic and would have little impact on Honduran children looking to escape a country racked by gang violence and the world's highest murder rate.
"This is a problem about the country, about the conditions in the country," said Gerardo Rivera, a researcher for Casa Alianza, a youth organization in Honduras. "What they're looking for is to flee from dangerous situations, flee from poverty, flee from a lack of opportunities."
The number deported on Monday was a drop in the bucket compared to the wave of migrants flooding across the US-Mexico border. More than 52,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America have been caught since October, twice as many as a year earlier.
US immigration officials said more people would be deported to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador in the coming days but declined to give any details of the pace of deportations.
Obama is attempting to balance competing interests: Reassure Americans that the migrants, many of them unaccompanied children who have streamed into Texas across Mexico's border by the thousands, will be sent home, while making clear to immigration advocates that the children will be given due process of law.