A group of families who crossed into the U.S. illegally were flown back to Central America Monday, beginning a wave of deportations that Department of Homeland Security officials said are expected to pick up in "coming days and weeks."
Roughly 40 adults and children were sent to Honduras Monday after being held at a federal facility in Artesia, New Mexico, NBC News reports.
"We expect additional migrants will be returned to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador in the coming days and weeks, based on the results of removal proceedings or expedited removal," Immigration and Customs Enforcement Spokeswoman Nina Praneda wrote in a statement. "These returns are a result of the president’s direction to surge resources such as immigration judges and asylum officers to process these cases more quickly.”
The White House last week requested nearly $4 billion in funding from Congress to cope with the more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors who have been apprehended by immigration agents since October.
On Capitol Hill, a pair of Texas lawmakers are introducing a bipartisan bill this week to speed up the deportation process for the thousands of children caught along the southwestern border. Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Democrat Rep. Henry Cuellar plan to formally introduce the legislation on Tuesday to fast track processing times after border agents saw a more than 100% increase in the number of kids crossing into the U.S. alone this year.
The measure would streamline the process by weakening protections granted to kids who arrive from countries that do not share a border with the United States. Currently, children fleeing from Central American countries automatically qualify for asylum hearings once they enter the U.S. But with immigration court dockets backlogged, those cases often drag out for months, sometimes even years.
The legislation would give children a seven-day window to make their claim to remain legally in the United States. Immigration judges would then have 72 hours after the child makes the claim to decide whether they can stay. Up to 40 new immigration judges could be dispatched to speed the proceedings, according to a summary of the bill provided by Cuellar’s office.
The bill builds on a proposal previously floated by the White House to roll back portions of a human trafficking law enacted in 2008. Human rights advocates have strongly objected to the plan, warning that scaling back on the protections could lead to taking children who may have legitimate claims to asylum and returning them to harm. The majority of the unaccompanied minors currently caught at the border hail from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — three countries that frequently rank among the top murder capitals in the world.
The Obama administration has not formally requested that Congress expedite deportations, but lawmakers are already pressing for the changes on their own.
“The border region in Texas has been overwhelmed over the past few months by a deluge of undocumented immigrants from Central America,” Cuellar said in a statement Monday. “Today’s legislation strengthens current law protecting unaccompanied children and responds to the crisis while supporting the men and women of Border Patrol.”