First group of Hondurans deported from new U.S. facility

Photo from CNN
Tuesday, July 15, 2014 - 7:00am

The woman's eyes were swollen and red after she got off a plane in this violence-plagued Central American city on Monday.

She told CNN she'd cried the whole way on the flight from New Mexico. Her 6-year-old daughter was beside her.

They were among a group of about 40 mothers and children deported from the United States to Honduras on a chartered flight Monday -- the first group of Central Americans sent home under stepped-up U.S. efforts to crack down on illegal immigration.

Asked about their journey to the United States, her 6-year-old daughter described the dangerous trek north in vivid detail. Stowing away on freight trains. Walking through a forest at night. Seeing monkeys and snakes.

Despite the dangers, her mother told CNN she'll likely make the trek again. There is nothing left for them in Honduras, she said.

Homeland Security officials displayed similar resolve on Monday, saying the flight was a sign of future deportations to come.

"Our border is not open to illegal migration and we will send recent illegal migrants back," the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement. "We expect additional migrants will be returned to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador in the coming days and weeks."

The group deported Monday had recently crossed the U.S.-Mexico border and had been held in a new temporary immigration detention facility that opened up in Artesia, New Mexico, late last month, Homeland Security officials said.

In the Artesia facility, which can house up to 700 people and had about 400 within its confines on Friday, officials say undocumented immigrants will be held until their legal cases are decided. The goal, officials said last week, is to process their cases in two to four days. Video conferences with judges have helped speed up the process, officials said.

Before the facility opened up, groups of women with children from Central America were released on parole, dropped off at bus stations throughout the Southwest and told to report to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Offices across the country in about a month.

After meeting with House Democrats on Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said authorities are building additional detention centers to house adults traveling with children.

Officials are working to correct misinformation from smugglers, who've claimed that there are "free passes" for those coming to the United States.

"Beginning this week, we are sending family units back to Central America, so the message is 'We will send you back,'" he said.

The plane arrived Monday afternoon in San Pedro Sula, where violence has earned the city a reputation as the world's murder capital.

There were 18 mothers and 22 children on the plane that arrived in Honduras Monday, first lady Ana Garcia de Hernandez told reporters, according to CNN affiliate Televicentro. The youngest child on the plane was just months old, she said, while the oldest one was 15 or 16.

She called for Hondurans to chip in to help the returning families and said officials were developing plans to better support them.

"These are people with dreams, with illusions, and who come (back) in very difficult conditions, who are seeing that their dreams were not made a reality, seeing their aspirations frustrated. Many of them return empty-handed," she said. "And the only thing they have are debts to pay because before leaving they got rid of everything had."

Hernandez, who spokes as busloads of Honduran children sent back from Mexico also were expected to arrive, said she was concerned that children were being deported.

"Clearly it worries us," she said, "because we have always spoken about ensuring the best interests of the children."

Sor Valdette Willeman, who heads the Honduran government's program for returning migrants, says there's no second flight of families deported from the United States scheduled yet, but officials are expecting more to come soon. Already, flights packed with Honduran adults deported from the United States arrive daily, she said.

She said she expected the children to arrive in good condition and said the United States has been doing everything possible to care for them and treat them in a dignified manner.

Obama has asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funds to fortify the border patrol and strengthen other programs for dealing with those crossing into the United States illegally as a surge of Central American women and children arrive on America's doorstep.

But the Republican-led House is not expected to move fast on it and doesn't want to give Obama everything he wants. Some say tweaking a 2008 law combating immigrant trafficking might be enough to stem the flow.

The White House has called the situation a "humanitarian crisis."

Republicans prefer to call it one of the Obama administration's making, and blame it for not being prepared and for an underwhelming response.

Rosa Flores reported from San Pedro Sula, Catherine E. Shoichet reported from Atlanta and Evan Perez reported from Washington. CNN's Deirdre Walsh, Ana Cabrera and Mike Ahlers contributed to this report.

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