The unprecedented rise in Honduran children fleeing to the U.S. is due to misinformation about American immigration laws and drug violence, the president of Honduras told Fusion on Friday.
“They might think they can gain legal status through this,” said President Juan Orlando Hernandez. “But on the other hand, this is a kind of displacement, because of the cartel wars and the Maras [gangs] in Central America.”
Speaking after an event at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., Hernandez implored the American government to do more to combat drug trafficking in Honduras, saying that “for us, it’s an issue of life and death.”
The number of young migrants crossing into the U.S. illegally has risen exponentially in recent years. In particular, more children are crossing without a parent or guardian.
President Obama has called the influx of children an “urgent humanitarian situation” and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been tasked with coordinating federal efforts to house and care for minors in federal custody.
Still, the administration has stressed that children who enter the country illegally will be subject to immigration law and, potentially, deportation.
Mark Greenberg, the acting assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources (HHS), which eventually takes custody of children apprehended at the border, explained the process at a press briefing on Thursday.
“Our duty is to get the child to a sponsor,” he said. “While they are with the sponsor, they are still fully subject to removal proceedings. And the sponsors have an obligation to cooperate with getting children to the proceedings, to cooperate in the removal process and to report to DHS and to the Justice Department if there’s a change in address.”
The administration has been unclear about what happens when undocumented parents living in the U.S. attempt to claim children who have been apprehended by federal authorities.
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said Thursday that HHS is, “required under the law to act pursuant to the best interest of the child.”
Lawmakers in Washington have argued in recent weeks over what’s causing the surge in child migration. Republicans say the deferred action program, which allows young undocumented immigrants to live and work in the U.S., is tempting more people to cross illegally. Democrats say it’s crushing poverty and violence in Latin America.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, for his part, recognized both factors. He pleaded for U.S. authorities to recognize the plight of migrants.
“I’ve asked the United States government to treat this matter with the utmost care from the humanitarian perspective,” he said. “They are kids in search of their parents and they have the complete right to be with their parents.”
Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.