U.S. President Barack Obama has asked Congress for new authority to deport Central American children who are illegally immigrating to the United States by the thousands.
“We have an urgent humanitarian challenge on the border,” the president said Monday, complaining that immigration reforms are languishing in Congress.
“America cannot wait forever for them to act. And that's why today I'm beginning a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own without Congress.”
Speaking from the White House Rose Garden, Obama said the U.S. has the "legal and moral obligation" to care for the 52,000 unaccompanied children and 39,000 women with children who have crossed into the United States along its southwestern border with Mexico since October.
But he asked Congress for new funding that could total $2 billion for a new "aggressive deterrence strategy" to carry out the deportations and curb the migration, mostly of immigrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
The recent influx has overwhelmed U.S. immigration officials, but under U.S. law the immigrants cannot be immediately sent back to their home countries. Some of the children may be reunited with parents already living in the United States.
“Children aren’t slipping through, they’re being apprehended,” the president said, describing the phenomenon of youngsters presenting themselves to, rather than eluding, U.S. authorities at the southwestern border.
“Our system … is so unclear that folks don’t know what the rules are,” he added.
Vice President Joe Biden visited Guatemala on June 20, discussing immigration policy and root causes of the violence that has sent some youngsters and women to seek refuge in the United States.
Obama said Secretary of State John Kerry would travel to the region this week. Reuters news service said the Spanish EFE news agency reported that Kerry – traveling to Panama for Tuesday’s scheduled inagauration of President-elect Juan Carlos Varela – also would meet with representatives of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to discuss resolutions to the crisis.
VOA's Luis Ramirez contributed to this story.
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