In a memo that describes an "urgent humanitarian situation," Obama
has put the Federal Emergency Management Agency in charge of
coordinating humanitarian relief to the children, including housing,
care, medical treatment and transportation.
The Obama administration estimates that about 60,000 "unaccompanied
minors" - children under 18 - will enter the United States illegally
this year. It projects that number to grow to nearly 130,000 next
As recently as 2011, the number was only some 6,000.
Many of the children are from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and
Mexico, and are fleeing domestic abuse or violent gangs that prey on
children as young as 12, White House officials said.
Poverty also contributes to decisions to leave their home countries,
according to immigration advocacy groups.
In making the journey to the United States, they often are trying to
reunite with a parent or other relative.
Illegal immigration is a deeply divisive issue in the U.S. Congress
and Republicans blamed the flood of children streaming into the
country on Obama's policies.
House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte
of Virginia said his panel would look into the issue in coming
"The recent surge of children and teenagers from Central America
showing up at our southern border is an administration-made disaster
and now President Obama is calling in FEMA to mitigate the damage,"
He blamed "lax immigration enforcement policies" by the
administration, even though it has aggressively sought the removal
of millions of undocumented residents.
Last month, the administration announced it had opened a temporary
shelter for some of the children at Lackland Air Force Base in San
Antonio. It is nearly at its capacity of housing 1,200 children,
[to top of second column]
Another facility will open at Naval Base Ventura County in Southern
California, Mark Greenberg, assistant secretary at the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services, said on Monday.
The California facility will hold a maximum of 600 children,
White House Director of Domestic Policy Cecilia Munoz said Monday's
action was prompted by several concerns, including rises in the
number of girls and children under the age of 13 who have been
crossing the border.
The growing numbers of unaccompanied minors are placing budgetary
pressures on Congress and the White House as they prepare spending
bills for next year, Reuters reported last week.
Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said federal
officials would focus resources on combating smuggling networks that
bring the children into the United States and would work with
Central American governments to spread the word that the journey
from their home countries is "perilous."
Many children do not realize the dangers they can encounter in
leaving their home countries, including sexual assaults, starvation,
forced labor and injuries from falling from freight trains that they
jump on in Mexico.
(Editing by Jim Loney, Peter Cooney and Lisa Shumaker)
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