Illegal immigrant family units consistently pointed to a belief that they will allowed to stay in the U.S. and receive public benefits as a reason for illegally migrating north to the U.S., according to internal Department of Homeland Security documents obtained by the Associated Press.
The AP reports that while the Obama administration has argued for months that the spike in Central American families illegally coming to the U.S. is due to “push factors” in the region, hundreds of illegal immigrants themselves point to a belief they can stay and collect benefits.
The Associated Press obtained copies of the interview summaries, which were compiled in reports by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Intelligence. They said hundreds of people traveling as part of families consistently cited opportunities to obtain permission to stay in the U.S., claim asylum and receive unspecified benefits. Immigrants spoke of “permisos,” or a pass to come into the United States.
The interviews of 345 illegal immigrants in family units were conducted by federal agents between July 7 and September 30. Over the past two years the southern border has seen a surge in illegal immigration by Central Americans family units and unaccompanied minors.
Since October 2013, more than 108,000 adults and children in “family units” were apprehended while entering the U.S. When the surge reached an initial fever-pitch last summer, the Obama administration launched a media campaign aimed at persuading Central Americans not to make the journey north.
The administration reinvigorated the media campaign this year; however, the results of the interviews the AP has uncovered suggest that the campaign has not been particularly effective. The AP also notes that the policy of releasing illegal immigrants into the U.S. while they await their deportation hearings has also contributed to the perception that these family units may stay in the U.S.
Although the Obama administration has explained that immigrants who cross the U.S. border illegally can be deported, lengthy backlogs of more than 456,000 cases mean that immigrants can effectively remain in the U.S. for years before a judge decides whether they should leave the country. Also, recent court rulings have complicated the government’s plans to hold families in immigration jails pending deportation proceedings. Immigrants living in the U.S. illegally generally are not eligible for public benefits, except that children may receive free or reduced meals in public schools.
DHS spokeswoman Marsha Catron told the AP that the interview report “is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis of the situation,” and that the “push factors” in the illegal immigrants’ countries of origin also played a part in the migration.
Republicans have blamed the Obama administration’s failure to enforce immigration law as a key component to the ongoing run at the U.S.-Mexico border. The latest report adds more fuel to their perspective.
“This internal Border Patrol document shows that the Obama administration’s lax immigration policies are the culprit for the ongoing surge at our borders,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) told the AP.