Editor’s note: In light of the recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids that have sparked panic in immigrant communities across the county, Tribuna has received numerous phone calls at its newsroom from community members looking for clarity. With that in mind, we have decided to publish below the most critical parts of the official statement released on Jan. 4 by the Department of Homeland Security, highlighting some of the actions the department will be taking in 2016.
Statement by Secretary Jeh C. Johnson on Southwest Border Security:
Since the summer of 2014, we have removed and repatriated migrants to Central America at an increased rate, averaging about 14 flights a week. Most of those returned have been single adults.
This past weekend [January 2, 2016], Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) engaged in concerted, nationwide enforcement operations to take into custody and return at a greater rate adults who entered this country illegally with children. This should come as no surprise. I have said publicly for months that individuals, who constitute enforcement priorities, including families and unaccompanied children, will be removed.
The focus of this weekend’s operations were adults and their children who (i) were apprehended after May 1, 2014 crossing the southern border illegally, (ii) have been issued final orders of removal by an immigration court, and (iii) have exhausted appropriate legal remedies, and have no outstanding appeal or claim for asylum or other humanitarian relief under our laws. As part of these operations, 121 individuals were taken into custody, primarily from Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina, and they are now in the process of being repatriated. To effect removal, most families are first being transported to one of ICE’s family residential centers for temporary processing before being issued travel documents and boarding a return flight to their home countries.
Given the sensitive nature of taking into custody and removing families with children, a number of precautions were taken as part of this weekend’s operations. ICE deployed from around the country a number of female agents and medical personnel to take part in the operations, and, in the course of the operations, ICE exercised prosecutorial discretion in a number of cases for health or other personal reasons.
This enforcement action was overseen by Sarah Saldaña, the Director of ICE, and supported and executed by Thomas Homan, a career law enforcement official who leads ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations.
At my direction, additional enforcement operations such as these will continue to occur as appropriate.
Increasing border security
We are continuing to enhance our border security resources and capabilities, working closely with state and local counterparts. As a result of our long-term investment in border security over the past 15 years, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has greater capability to identify and interdict illegal crossings than at any time in our Nation’s history. This includes the largest deployment of vehicles, aircraft, boats, and equipment along the southwest border in the 90-year history of the Border Patrol. And through the Southern Border and Approaches Campaign Plan we launched in early 2015, we are for the first time putting to use in a combined and strategic way the assets and personnel of CBP, ICE, Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the Coast Guard to better protect the border.
In response to the recent increases in migrant flows along the southwest border, CBP has deployed additional permanent Border Patrol Agents to high-traffic areas, augmented operations in South Texas with Mobile Response Teams, and redirected support from other Border Patrol sectors, including through remote interviewing technology. CBP has also increased surveillance capabilities by adding tethered aerostats (long-range radars) and other technology, along with additional aircraft. CBP will sustain these heightened border security efforts, along with the humanitarian aspects of its responsibilities, while the current migration levels persist.
As the number of unaccompanied children crossing our southern border has risen again in recent months, DHS has continued our close coordination with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as it increases its capacity to care for unaccompanied minors and place them with sponsors. Our goal is to ensure that CBP has the continued capability to quickly and efficiently transfer unaccompanied minors after they are apprehended to HHS custody, as is required by U.S. law. In the past month, HHS added over 1,000 beds for this purpose, and recently announced that another estimated 1,800 beds will be available soon. HHS is continuing to explore options for additional beds if necessary.
Cracking down on criminal smugglers
In the summer of 2014, the Deputy Attorney General and I announced “Operation Coyote” to crack down on those involved in the criminal smuggling of migrants from Central America and elsewhere. Since then, 1,022 smugglers and their associates have been arrested, and hundreds of bank accounts have been seized.
With the Department of Justice, we are now doubling down on these efforts. This will build on existing initiatives such as ICE’s Human Smuggling Cell, which is working with the financial industry to target and disrupt the flow of funds to human smuggling organizations. DHS’s recently formed Joint Task Forces, JTF-West and JTF-Investigations, will coordinate the deployment of additional DHS investigative and prosecutorial resources and their integration into the Department of Justice’s ongoing law enforcement and prosecution operations.
Cooperation with Mexico
We are expanding our cooperation with Mexico in dealing with illicit migration. In particular, we are working with our Mexican partners to enhance joint efforts on our shared border, to support Mexico’s efforts on its southern border, and to shut down the criminal groups and illegal support networks that exploit vulnerable migrants. DHS and the Department of State will also continue to support the Merida Initiative, the longstanding partnership between the United States and Mexico to fight organized crime and associated violence.
Expanding the public messaging campaign
DHS and the Department of State are expanding our existing messaging campaign in Central America, Mexico, and the United States to educate those considering making the journey north, as well as their families abroad, about the dangerous realities of the journey. The messaging will also highlight the recent enforcement operations.
To read the complete official statement visit: http://www.dhs.gov/news/2016/01/04/statement-secretary-jeh-c-johnson-southwest-border-security.