Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson faced pointed questions Tuesday from Congressional leaders about what's being done to quell the thousands of Central American immigrants coming across the southern border. Johnson also faced questions as to what's driving the problem.
Appearing before the House Committee on Homeland Security, Johnson told committee members he believes the wave of Central American immigrants crossing into Texas is being largely driven by a criminal element.
"The smuggling organizations are creating a misinformation campaign that there is a 'permiso' or a free pass," said Johnson.
Johnson added violence in Central America is also driving the influx of immigrants, thousands of whom were sent alone to the U.S. by their parents.
"The principal reason they are leaving is the push factor from the countries they are leaving, the conditions in Honduras for example are horrible. It's the murder capital of the world," said Johnson.
Johnson pointed to a recent PR campaign of sorts in Central America that warns parents no automatic asylum or amnesty is waiting for their children in the US.
Committee chair, Houston area Republican congressman Michael McCaul applauded Johnson's attempts to speak directly to Central American citizens, but balked at some of his explanations. McCaul said violence in Central America is not a new problem.
"I personally believe the administration's policies have contributed to the problem and have encouraged more people to come," said McCaul.
Johnson's answers also did not seem to satisfy New York Rep. Peter King. King cited the 52,000 unaccompanied children and 39,000 adults traveling with their children from Central America that have been caught illegally crossing the border since October.
"A child, a 5-year-old child getting an order to show up in immigration court, are you actually going to deport that child? To me it's a free pass," said King.
Johnson attempted to quiet some criticism of the federal government's response to the issue. Johnson told the committee an additional 115 Customs and Border Protection agents are being sent to south Texas and, possibly, an additional 150 Border Patrol agents. Johnson also said he was adding 60 investigators and support personnel to offices in Houston and San Antonio to help break up smuggling rings that are profiting from the wave of Central American immigrants.
These measures are in addition to ones announced by the White House on Friday. White House officials said additional resources were being sent to the border to help speed up deportation proceedings and additional detention space was being readied. The federal government is also sending $254.6 million in aid to Central America to help with repatriation and citizen security.