Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Wednesday stressed that children who have been sent into the United States illegally and alone have "no free pass" to stay.
After Johnson toured the Nogales Placement Center, a detention facility in Nogales, Ariz., where 900 immigrant children are being housed, he issued a message to their parents.
"This journey is a dangerous one, and at the end of it there is no free pass," he said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "There are no permisos for children, for your children, who come to the United States. The journey from Central America into south Texas is over a thousand miles long. It is hot. It is treacherous and you are placing your child in the hands of a criminal smuggling organization. It is not safe."
Several families and children, however, told the Times that they’ve heard rumors in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador about there being a new opportunity for a permiso, or pass, that would allow them to stay in the U.S. permanently. Since October, nearly 52,000 children have crossed the border alone.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) joined Johnson on the tour of the facility and placed blame on the Obama administration for not doing much to alleviate the situation, which many have called a humanitarian crisis.
"This crisis that America is facing with these children, unaccompanied children, is because we have not sent a strong message to these countries that our borders are closed," she said. "And we need a federal government to step up and secure the borders."
Johnson explained that the Nogales Placement Center is a “short-term facility” while “long-term solutions” are needed to address the crisis, according to a readout of the visit.
Last Friday, the Obama administration announced it would send tens of millions of dollars to Central American countries to help improve their security and repatriate immigrants who tried to enter the U.S.
In a letter that same day, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) invited President Obama to tour the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, but the White House has not said whether the president would accept the invitation.
A group of House Democrats, meanwhile, introduced legislation earlier this week that would provide lawyers to children who have crossed the border already.