The United States is telling Central American parents there is no path to American citizenship for the thousands of unaccompanied children who are entering the U.S. illegally in hopes of escaping poverty and crime in their native lands.
In an open letter to parents published in Spanish-language outlets over the weekend, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said no permits to stay in the U.S. are being granted to the 47,000 children who have crossed into the country this year.
Most of the children have come from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, traveling through Mexico to the southwestern border of the U.S.
Johnson said the U.S. is seeking to deport the children, although they currently are being held in several U.S. facilities while their cases are considered by U.S. immigration judges.
Johnson did not say so in the letter, but some of the children could be allowed to stay if their parents are already in the U.S.
He said "the desire to see a child have a better life in the United States is understandable," but he said the risks of illegal migration "are far too great."
The Homeland Security chief warned the parents that it is dangerous to send their children on the long journey to the U.S., and that criminal smuggling networks have no regard for their safety. He said that for the smugglers, "your child is a commodity to be exchanged for a payment."
An estimated 11 million illegal immigrants are already in the U.S. and immigration policies are politically contentious. Last year, the Senate approved reforms that could over years allow many of the illegal immigrants to become U.S. citizens, but the legislation has languished in the House of Representatives and no votes on reforms have been scheduled.
Johnson said only children who arrived in the U.S. before mid-2007 are eligible to stay.