By Tom Hals
(Reuters) – U.S. immigration authorities want to deport recently arrived families who are in the United States illegally to discourage the surging numbers of Central Americans arriving from Mexico, a government official leading the effort said on Wednesday.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will target for deportation families that have received a removal order from a U.S. immigration court, said Mark Morgan, the acting director of ICE, in a call with reporters.
The agency will “be sending a powerful message to individuals from Northern Triangle countries: Do not come. Do not risk it,” said Morgan, referring to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. “Once you receive due process and get a final order, you will be removed.”
On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump formally launched his re-election bid with a vow to continue his hardline against illegal immigration.
The number of migrants apprehended crossing the U.S.-Mexico border surged in May to the highest level since 2006. Most are migrants from Central America that seek U.S. asylum, a process that can take years. Many families are released into the United States to wait out their deportation hearings, due to legal limits on the time children can be detained.
ICE will target individuals who had their claims addressed through an expedited family docket in immigration court that the Trump administration created last year, according to Morgan.
There were more than 56,000 cases on the fast-tracked family docket as of June 14, according to data from the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the agency that oversees the nation’s immigration courts.
Approximately 12,800 have been ordered removed on the fast-tracked family docket, EOIR data shows. Of those, the majority were removed in absentia — meaning they did not show up for the hearing at which they were ordered deported.
Kevin Landy, a former ICE assistant director under the Obama administration, said that many families who were released “were often not given specific information about where they should show up for their hearings.”
The surge of migrants has stretched the government’s resources and hampered deportations under Trump, which lag the levels of President Barack Obama’s first term.
“Resources are clearly an issue,” said Morgan, which will dictate the pace of deportations.
The Senate appropriations committee on Wednesday approved on a bipartisan 30-1 vote a $4.6 billion emergency spending bill for programs that house, feed, transport and oversee families seeking asylum.
(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware, Susan Cornwell in Washington, Mica Rosenberg in New York, Kristina Cooke in San Francisco and Reade Levinson in London; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)