Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said this week that an influx of Haitian refugees has been trying to cross the southern border in recent months.
The Department of Homeland Security said 408,870 apprehensions were made along the southern border in fiscal year 2016, including 59,692 unaccompanied children, 77,674 traveling as families, and 271,504 individuals.
That’s up from the 331,333 apprehensions in fiscal year 2015, yet still down from the 479,371 illegal border crossers caught in fiscal year 2014.
Johnson said in a statement that the totals remain “a fraction of the number of apprehensions routinely observed from the 1980s through 2008.”
Central Americans apprehended trying to cross the border exceeded Mexicans for the first time in fiscal year 2014, and that happened again this past fiscal year.
Johnson said he’s traveled to the border 17 times in the past 34 months and has personally seen how “unaccompanied children and families have presented new challenges in our immigration system.”
“We are determined to treat migrants in a humane manner. At the same time, we must enforce our immigration laws consistent with our enforcement priorities,” he said. “This has included, and will continue to include, providing individuals with an opportunity to assert claims for asylum and other forms of humanitarian relief.”
“…Border security alone cannot overcome the powerful push factors of poverty and violence that exist in Central America. Walls alone cannot prevent illegal migration. Ultimately, the solution is long-term investment in Central America to address the underlying push factors in the region.”
Johnson urged the next administration and Congress to “make smart investments in border security technology, equipment and other resources.”
“This is what our experts on the border — those on the front lines every day, charged with the responsibility of protecting our borders – tell me each time I ask them,” he said.
He recently returned from a visit to Mexico, and reported that “our working relationship is strong, and we’ve committed to do even more for our mutual border security interests.”
Johnson noted that “in recent months we’ve seen an influx of Haitian nationals on our southern border, principally at certain land ports of entry.”
“On September 22, I announced we would resume removals of Haitian nationals in accordance with our existing enforcement priorities. In light of Hurricane Matthew, which struck Haiti on October 4, removal flights to Haiti have been suspended temporarily,” he said. “Working with the Government of Haiti, DHS intends to resume removal flights as soon as possible. DHS and the Department of State are working with the Government of Haiti and other key partners to ensure that removals occur in as humane and minimally disruptive a manner as possible.”
“The policy change I announced on September 22 remains in effect. Haitians attempting to enter the United States without authorization will continue to be placed into immigration detention.”
The secretary added that “at all times throughout President Obama’s administration, we have endeavored to enforce the immigration laws in a fair and humane way, consistent with the immigration system we have.”
“But, the reality is the system is broken, and badly need of comprehensive immigration reform that only Congress can provide. For one thing, we must reckon with the millions of undocumented immigrants who live in the shadows in this country, who’ve been here for years, and who should be given the opportunity to come forward and get right with the law,” he said. “It is my profound hope that the next Congress will finally address this and other issues, and enact comprehensive immigration reform.”