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Obama official says at border: 'We'll send you back'

By CNN Staff
updated 10:58 PM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visits southern border in New Mexico
  • The administration wants to amplify its message that illegal arrivals are mostly going back
  • The stepped up effort comes amid an influx of undocumented minors from Central America
  • New arrivals have overwhelmed border services and ignited new political controversy

Artesia, New Mexico (CNN) -- Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has something to say to people contemplating illegal migration to the United States: "We'll send you back."

Deportations will begin this week, he said.

It's a message the Obama administration wants to amplify more loudly now that it is wrestling with a huge influx of minors crossing the southern border -- 57,000 in the past nine months.

They're from troubled Central American countries and a lot are unaccompanied and many of those are young children.

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It's all overwhelming already stressed immigration services as more and more kids find themselves caught in a bureaucratic limbo and a political firestorm.

Reforming an immigration system most in and out of Washington agree is broken is an all-but dead legislative issue in Congress now with midterm elections around the corner. But there is growing pressure on both to address the current influx of minors.

Obama has asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funds to fortify the border patrol and strengthen other programs for dealing with those crossing into the United States illegally.

But the Republican-led House is not expected to move fast on it and doesn't want to give Obama everything he wants. Some say tweaking a 2008 law combating immigrant trafficking might be enough to stem the flow.

Overwhelmed facilities

The political wrangling is all going on as new arrivals make their way to detention facilities like the one Johnson visited in Artesia, New Mexico. It currently houses about 400 immigrants, with more expected to arrive Friday night.

The White House has called the situation a "humanitarian crisis."

Republicans prefer to call it one of the Obama administration's making, and blame it for not being prepared and for an underwhelming response.

They liken it to the debacle associated with the underwhelming federal response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that was a nadir for Obama's Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.

But the administration says the influx was unexpected and that inaction by the Republican-led House on a bipartisan immigration reform plan approved by Senate has held up improvements that could be applied in this case.

Obama himself resisted calls, predominantly from Texas Gov. Rick Perry and other Republicans, to visit the border during a trip to the Lone Star State this week. He declined, saying that he was working on the problem and wasn't interested in "photo ops."

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Johnson, instead, showed up and delivered Obama's message.

"Our message to those who are coming here illegally, to those who are contemplating coming here illegally: 'We will send you back,'" Johnson said.

"People in Central America should see and will see that if they make this journey and spend several thousand dollars to do that we will send them back and they will have wasted their money," he added.

The New Mexico facility visited by Johnson opened June 27 at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. It's capable of housing 700 people, and is being used now for adults and children who arrive as family units. They are subject to "expedited removal."

The vexing problem involves unaccompanied children, who have arrived in unprecedented numbers this year from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

Many are fleeing violence and other hardships. But others, especially Republicans, tie the influx to Obama's 2012 decision to ease deportations for children already in the country illegally.

Johnson said his agency is working to dispell "misinformation" by smugglers that the United States is giving a "free pass" to migrants.

"I think it's fair to say that a good number of (the migrants at the Artesia facility) were surprised that they were being detained," Johnson said. "I think that they expected to be apprehended and simply let go into the interior and they're surprised they're being detained and they're being send back so quickly."

The White House is promising due process, but Obama said on Wednesday that most would likely go back.

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CNN's Mike Ahlers contributed to this report.

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