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US Immigration News 2014: President Barack Obama Addresses Undocumented Immigration by Unaccompanied Minors, High Rate Could Cost Country $2 Billion

First Posted: Jun 03, 2014 10:51 AM EDT

On Monday, June 2, President Barack Obama released a presidential memorandum addressing the high number of unaccompanied migrant minors attempting to illegally cross the United States border.

Obama described the issue as an "urgent humanitarian situation" and gave the job of government response to Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, The Associated Press reports. Since October 2013, 47,000 children have been caught trying to cross the U.S.' southwest border. It is expected that 60,000 minors, mostly from Central America, will be caught at the border this year, 10 times more than in 2011, according to government estimates.

Last week, Obama asked Congress for $1.4 billion worth of additional funding to help the temporary care and subsequent transportation of these minors. He also asked the Defense Department to provide temporary housing for over 1,000 children.

The number of minors attempting to immigrate illegally without an adult has been increasing since 2009, AP reports. According to Bloomberg View, 18,754 unaccompanied minors tried to cross the border from Mexico in 2013. Mexican children are usually sent home within hours of being caught "by treaty." There is no treaty with Central American countries, however; thus, apprehended unaccompanied minors from those countries are sent to the Department of Health and Human Services for an average of 30 to 45 days before being released. Bloomberg View reports that over 85 percent of them then go to relatives in the U.S.

According to Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, the number of children attempting to immigrate illegally increased more in 2014 than in 2013 and now includes more girls and children under the age of 13.

"All of these things are contributing to the sense of urgency," Muñoz said. "These are children who have gone through a harrowing experience alone. We're providing for their proper care."

The number of children under custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement has also risen. This number was at 6,000 to 7,5000 a year from 2008-2011. In 2012, the number rose to 13,625. In 2013, the office received over 24,000 children. The government opened an emergency operations center in southern Texas to alleviate stress on the office. Mark Greenberg, an assistant Health and Human Services Department secretary, said about 1,000 minors are housed at the Texas center currently, and up to 600 more may be sent to a Navy base in California.

"We are only talking about protecting these kids," Muñoz said when asked about the government's plans, according to the Washington Times. "These are children, and in many cases they are young children. They have just traveled from Central America to the U.S. alone."

Based on estimates, these minors could end up costing the government $2.28 billion in food, housing, and transportation to shelters or U.S. relatives.

On Monday, some Republicans suggested that these numbers come from a lack of immigration policy enforcement.

"Word has gotten out around the world about President Obama's lax immigration enforcement policies, and it has encouraged more individuals to come to the United States illegally, many of whom are children from Central America," Rep Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., House Judiciary Committee chairman, said in a statement according to Washington Times.

Follow Scharon Harding on Twitter: @ScharHar.

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