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CBP Addresses Humanitarian Challenges of Unaccompanied Child Migrants

Border Patrol agents from Eagle Pass, Texas rescue a woman and her daughter from the Rio Grande River.

Border Patrol agents from Eagle Pass, Texas rescue a woman and her daughter from the Rio Grande River. The El Salvador citizens were struggling to stay afloat when spotted by agents, who deployed flotation devices and pulled them from the water. (Photo by Border Patrol Agent Carl Nagy)

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is dealing with multifaceted humanitarian and security issues as tens of thousands of unaccompanied migrant children have been arriving at the Southwest U.S. border.

The most immediate problem: Caring for the children. As of mid-June of this fiscal year, CBP had apprehended more than 52,000 children at the border. Approximately three-quarters of them originated from El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras after traveling for weeks through Mexico.

“They’re arriving exhausted and scared, in need of food and water,” said CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske. “Our agency and the Department of Homeland Security have mobilized to address this situation in a way consistent with our laws and our American values.”

DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services are coordinating with the Department of Defense to house and process the children. The federal partners are locating additional facilities as needed.

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson on July 1 announced the immediate deployment of approximately 150 additional Border Patrol agents to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, where the largest numbers of unaccompanied minors are arriving. The added personnel will help process the influx of children and uphold CBP’s work securing the border.

“I have seen CBP employees respond to these difficulties with professionalism and compassion,” said Commissioner Kerlikowske. “They’ve made heroic efforts with these children; rescuing them and caring for them in the most humane and compassionate way. I am extremely proud of their dedication and of how they have risen to this challenge.”

A Border Patrol agent provides treatment and a health assessment of a woman in distress after crossing into U.S.

A Border Patrol agent provides treatment and a health assessment of a woman in distress after crossing into U.S. (Photo by Barry Bahler)

The State Department and the White House have been working with senior government officials in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico. “They hope to address the conditions in Central America that are spurring the migration and ways that we can together assure faster, secure repatriation of these children and families,” said Commissioner Kerlikowske.

In addition, the Department of Justice has committed to sending more immigration judges to the border to expedite removal proceedings for the children.

The message from the U.S. government on immigration is clear—if you cross illegally into the U.S.:

  • you cannot earn a path to citizenship;
  • you are not eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA;
  • you will not get papers that allow you to stay; and
  • you are putting yourself, or your child, in danger.

Dangers Awareness Campaign

CBP has developed a multimedia public awareness campaign to communicate the dangers to the children and their families who are considering the journey.

The Dangers Awareness Campaign materials include print, radio and TV ads with the universal message:

  • The journey is too dangerous;
  • Children will not get legal papers if they make it.
  • They are the future—let’s protect them.

In addition to placing paid advertising in Central America and Mexico through early September, CBP is working with stakeholders in Central America and in the U.S. to encourage them to continue communicating these messages with their constituencies. The agency is reaching out to local governments, faith-based organizations, other non-governmental organizations and the news media to use the Dangers Awareness materials. (Audio of news conference describing awareness campaign).

Informational campaign poster targeted at countries where a lot of minors traveling to the U.S. originate.

This poster will be part of an information campaign targeted at countries where a lot of minors traveling to the U.S. originate. It translates to: “I thought it would be easy for my son to get his papers in the North. That wasn’t true.”