SAN DIEGO - The head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection launched an advertising campaign on Tuesday aimed at dissuading Central Americans from trying to enter the United States illegally and avoid the influx of the tens of thousands who tried to come last year.
Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske said the message of the campaign, which will appear on television, radio stations, social media and posters in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, is very simple.
"It is very, very dangerous," Kerlikowske said of the journey at the launch in San Diego. "And you are not going to be allowed to claim that you are eligible [to remain in the United States.]"
The $1.2 million campaign, called "Know the Facts," emphasizes that U.S. law and policy lead to immediate deportation and offer no relief for undocumented immigrants.
"If any one tells or promises you something different ... please don't believe them," the announcers say. "Your deportation will be a priority."
Last year, nearly 80,000 people from the three Central American countries made the journey across Mexico and into the United States, triggering a humanitarian crisis. About 63,000 were children, many traveling without their parents.
Kerlikowske said the Border Patrol, immigration courts,detention facilities and other organizations had struggled to cope with those unprecedented numbers.
"I watched Border Patrol agents cooking food, bringing clothes and toys from home for these children," he said, praising how staff had sought to make up for the lack of resources.
While many new arrivals were fleeing violence and poverty and had hoped to stay with relatives already in the United States, Kerlikowske said those who immigrate illegally since July 2014 are prioritized for removal.
The commissioner said everyone needed to be aware of the dangers.
"There are very few days that go by that we are not recovering the remains of someone who tried to make that dangerous journey and died," he said.
Immigrant rights groups back the efforts to raise awareness among those considering the journey, both of the dangers along the way, and of being sent back home again.
"Commissioner Kerlikowske is focused on humane and respectful ways to inform folks about the risks, and it's important to try to do that," said Rabbi Laurie Coskey of the Interfaith Center for Worker Justice. "The stories of what people who made the journey had to endure that we are hearing are horrendous and terrifying."