NOGALES, AZ - Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson warned Central American families on Wednesday that "there is no free pass" in the U.S. immigration system after touring an Arizona facility holding hundreds of children apprehended at the border in recent weeks.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who has long been a staunch critic of the Obama administration's immigration policies, toured the converted warehouse in Nogales with Johnson and declared that the government is not doing its job in stifling the overwhelming surge in children illegally migrating to the U.S.
"Dang it, the federal government has got a job to do," she said. Asked whether the state should provide resources during what many say is a humanitarian crisis, Brewer said only that the federal government has made it clear she does not have any authority in addressing illegal immigration. Brewer was referring to a federal lawsuit against Arizona after Brewer signed into law the sweeping immigration bill known as SB 1070.
Thousands of Central American families and unaccompanied children have been coming to the U.S. in recent months as they flee violence, murders and extortion from criminal gangs in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Many of them are under the impression that they will receive leniency from U.S. authorities once they get here.
"I want to continue to emphasize to all those who are listening, including the parents of kids, parents that may be considering sending their kid from Central America, that this journey is a dangerous one and at the end of it there is no free pass, there is no `permisos' for your children to come to the United States," Johnson said.
But while Johnson has vowed to spread his message, Brewer says the federal government is not doing enough to stop the migration.
About 900 children are being held in the Nogales facility where they are processed and then turned over to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services while undergoing removal proceedings. They are often reunited with their families in the U.S. before their immigration court cases play out.
Johnson says the kids have adequate care.
"I have to say that the kids, while this is not an ideal situation, look as if they're being well-taken care of under the circumstance," Johnson said.
But the DHS chief has kept mum about how many children have been sent to Arizona, how many have been released and how many have reported back to immigration officials as required.
Immigration officials have also released a large number of women with children who crossed the border illegally into Texas, dropping them off at Greyhound stations in Phoenix and Tucson with the expectation that they will report back within 15 days. Officials have declined to answer how many have actually reported back.
Border Patrol agents have apprehended more than 52,000 immigrant children crossing the border alone since the start of the budget year last October. That included 9,000 in May alone.
Most have been caught in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, which has run out of space and resources to process the children.
The surge in crossings has prompted the Department of Homeland Security to fly many of those kids to Arizona for processing. The department is also using military bases in Texas, California and Oklahoma to house the children before they are placed with a parent or relative.
Other facilities in Artesia, New Mexico, where the Border Patrol training academy is located, and Tucson, Arizona, are being set up to house immigrants.
Doris Suyapa Leyba Juarez is one of the thousands of people who have come to the U.S. from Central America in the recent immigration surge.
As she sat on the ground in a dark corner of a Phoenix Greyhound station last month holding a 2-year-old girl, the mother of five said she wanted to come to the U.S. to give her kids the educational opportunities she didn't have in Honduras.
"I just want my kids to study. I can't read or write," she said.