The legal, humanitarian and political constraints facing the Obama administration as it copes with thousands of Central American children entering the country illegally came into sharp focus in a series of interviews Sunday.
A George W. Bush-era law to address human trafficking prevents the government from returning the children to their home countries without taking them into custody and eventually through a deportation hearing. Minors from Mexico and Canada, by contrast, can be sent back across the border more easily. The administration says it wants more flexibility under the law.
Even if Congress agrees, however, the change might do little to ease the partisan quarreling and complex logistical and humanitarian challenges surrounding the issue.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Sunday the administration has dramatically sped up the processing of adults who enter the country illegally, and it is opening more detention facilities. He acknowledged that the unaccompanied children from Central America, some 9,700 taken into custody in May alone, pose the most vexing problem.
Repeatedly pressed to say whether thousands of Central American children will be deported promptly, Johnson said, “we need to find more efficient, effective ways to turn this tide around generally, and we’ve already begun to do that.”