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20140623 AREA Immigration-influx 2039Two different messages were heard this week as the number of undocumented minors and families flooding the Rio Grande Valley received state and nationwide attention.

“What we’re trying to avoid is a perception that the criminal element is prevalent in our area or the situation is at a crisis,” said Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia at a news conference Monday morning. “It’s not, and that’s the message we’re trying to communicate. “

Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Perry said at a news conference Monday afternoon, “There are babies that have been transported all across Mexico. I’m telling you in July and August if the message does not get out into those countries in Central America, you’re going to see a Trail of Tears again from Central America to Texas.”

More than 160,000 people without documentation have been picked up in the Rio Grande Valley this fiscal year, compared to last year when 154,482 were detained over the entire year.

Garcia said about 20 percent of the immigrants detained last month were unaccompanied minors. The immigrants cross the border and search out Border Patrol agents to take them into custody.

Border Patrol has 72 hours to process the children and turn them over the Department of Health and Human Services to find their closest relatives.

Many apprehensions, Garcia said, are taking place when the immigrants turn themselves into game wardens downriver from the Anzalduas Bridge.

“They want to be detained,” he said. “So they can get a notice to appear (in court) because then they’re allowed to travel freely throughout the country.”

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is launching a campaign in Central America to warn parents not to send their children to the United States. In an open letter running in Spanish publications, Johnson states that 47,000 unaccompanied children crossed into the U.S.

“The criminal smuggling networks that you pay to deliver your child to the United States have no regard for his or her safety and well-being – to them, your child is a commodity to be exchanged for a payment,” Johnson states. 

“In the hands of smugglers, many children are traumatized and psychologically abused by their journey, or worse, beaten, starved, sexually assaulted or sold into the sex trade; they are exposed to psychological abuse at the hands of criminals.”

He adds that there are no “permisos” or free passes at the end of their journey, and the federal government’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program only applies to children who were in the country before June 2007.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, plans bring Jorge Milla Reyes, Honduran Ambassador to the United States, and Ana Garcia de Hernandez, First Lady of Honduras, to tour the McAllen and San Antonio facilities holding immigrants Saturday.

Cuellar has pushed for federal policy changes when dealing with the immigrants like reassigning immigration judges and officers to the Valley temporarily to speed up cases and expand the use of ankle bracelets as an alternative form of detainment.

Representatives of the Department of Public Safety said the influx of immigrants creates holes in border security and tightens federal resources. DPS believes drug cartels are taking advantage of the situation and encouraging the immigrants because it makes it easier to slip across the border.

Steve McCraw, director of DPS, said it is still too early to offer figures on increases in smuggling seen by law enforcement agencies, but he said they have seen more heroin and methamphetamines.

Last week, state leaders authorized an additional $1.3 million per week for DPS to perform additional operations in the Valley.

Perry bashed the federal government for its inaction and lack of communication. For example, he said, there were six aircrafts sent from Texas to Boston with people who are undocumented and the governor of Massachusetts didn’t know about it.

He also said it’s easier for law enforcement agencies to gain access to private landowner property than onto federal refuges along the border.

“Here’s my concern,” Perry said, “the federal government spends hundreds of millions of dollars on foreign aid going into countries south of the United States, whether it’s Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras … yet this administration is being hesitant about spending some millions of dollars to secure this border.”

“The federal government is spending a huge amount of money on federal aid, and we’re not getting anything for it as far as I can tell.”

Texas knows how to secure the border, Perry said, but it doesn’t have the resources or manpower to cover the entire 1,200 miles. Still, the state has surged into sectors and been able to effectively stop or slow criminal activity, he said, adding that the federal government needs to do its part.

Perry said there’s no point in calling for a special session because all the Legislature would do is authorize expenditures for DPS, which is something that’s already been done.

Judge Garcia said earlier in the day there’s also no need to call a state of emergency because there is no specific concern over public safety or health.

“I see it at this point,” Garcia said. “That’s not to say that’s not going to happen, but at this point it’s not there yet.”

Eddie Olivarez, chief administrator Hidalgo County Health and Human Services, said when the immigrants are first released from Border Patrol custody, they need showers and need sanitary aid.

“What we as a region have done is step in to fill in the gap,” he said, describing the work being done by Catholic Charities to provide temporary housing to the released immigrant families through Sacred Heart church in McAllen.

Vaccinations are being administered as needed, Olivarez said, and so far they’d seen five cases of chicken pox and a potential case of tuberculosis that was not substantiated. There have been rumors about measles, he said, but officials have not seen any cases. Wednesday, media reports out of San Antonio stated that a young immigrant held at the Lackland Air Force Base had been diagnosed with swine flu and 2,000 vaccines were being sent to the facility for anyone exposed to the child.

Olivarez said the bigger issue for the children is they’re being affected by allergies and pollen in the air. There have been a lot of respiratory complications and sinus issues, he said, as well as dehydration and the common cold.

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