U.S. Border Protection Head: Central American Immigrants Not Dangerous

ABC News' Jim Avila on the border crisis with Border Patrol Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske; plus El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz.
6:59 | 07/06/14

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Transcript for U.S. Border Protection Head: Central American Immigrants Not Dangerous
Starting right now on ABC's "This week" -- boiling point. Turn around and go back. Children and mothers pouring across the southern border. We go straight to the front lines of this rapidly unfolding crisis with the head of the border patrol and the governor whose state has been most affected, Rick Perry of Texas. Then on the brink. Four teens killed threatening to set the middle east tinder box on fire. We're on the ground with the breaking details. Plus, two hotly debated laws on marijuana and guns taking effect this week. Will they put families at risk and could they be coming to your state next? Good morning. I'm Martha Raddatz. As we come on the air this holiday weekend, we're tracking two big developing stories. Overseas where overnight Israel launched air strikes against targets in gaza amid fallout from a series of killings of Israeli and Palestinian teenagers. Many fears this morning that the region could be plunged into war. We'll get to that in a moment but first to the southern border where that immigration crisis is deepening, and this weekend, more arrests in Marietta, California, where protesters from both sides of the debate continue to clash over buses carrying undocumented migrants to new detention facilities. And this week, a special congressional hearing held near the texas/mexico border on that surge of immigrants streaming in from central America. We'll speak with two of the witnesses who testified there including Texas governor Rick Perry, but first here's ABC's Jim Avila. Turn around and go back. Reporter: The humanitarian crisis on the border now ripping at the fabric of American society. Flash point, Marietta, southern California, where the demonstrators stopped homeland security buses trying to process central American moms and kids who crossed into the U.S. Illegally. Why can't we just transport them on the bus to Tijuana and send them back across the border? Reporter: Because Mexico shares a border with the united States, Mexican citizens can be deported almost immediately. That's different from children from south America. They're treated as refugees and processed through immigration courts. The Obama administration wants to give the department of homeland security more discretion to fast track deportations for all central Americans. But residents of these border towns are angry that the migrants are crossing over at all. This is an invasion. Why is the National Guard not out there stopping them from coming in? Reporter: But in an exclusive interview with ABC news this week, his first since the crisis began, customs and border protection commissioner Gil kerlikowske said these immigrants should not be feared. These are family members. These are not gang members. These are not dangerous individuals. Reporter: Kerlikowske says the young immigrants and mothers from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras often run towards his agents wanting to be detained. These agents have gone well beyond the call of duty taking care of these kids, treating them with true compassion, with true heartfelt sympathy. And you believe you have enough agents to do the job right now? Well, as you know, secretary Johnson has just deployed an additional 150 agents to the Rio grande valley and that is on top of the 115 that are already moving in. So I'm confident that we have the resources. Reporter: They are detaining thousands each week, a projected 80,000 this year alone. Now homeland security is struggling to find a place to keep all of them. For "This week," Jim Avila, ABC news, Washington. I'm joined now by bishop mark Seitz of the catholic diocese of El Paso, Texas, who has been on the front lines aiding those children and families entering the country. Thanks for joining us, bishop Seitz. The part of the story we haven't really heard about is why is there this huge influx of these refugees now? What is happening in central America to make them all come here? Did something suddenly change down there? You've been down there with them. Right. I think that's something that has been missed by many people hearing the story. We just take it up at the point when they arrive at the border and what we need to begin to understand better is why would they leave? What would it take for you or me to leave our home, to leave it all behind, just to leave it as it is and to make that journey that they do know is very risky? They do know they're risking their life and so -- And what stories have you heard, bishop? Well, I've talked with so many people who said that their life was directly threatened down in tapachula on the southern border of Mexico. I spoke with a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old who told me that they had been recruited by the gang, that they would not join the gang, that their only option was to leave and even though they were being deported from Mexico to -- back to Honduras to San Pedro sula, the most dangerous city in the world, they would not stay. They would make another attempt because they felt that to remain would mean their death. Well, do you believe that they are coming here because they believe they can get in and that things are different and that they will be welcomed here? I think a helpful analogy for me is of a house that's burning and people at the windows ready to jump, we can say as many times as we want, don't jump, help is coming. But if the flames begin licking at their backs, then they're going to jump, and they'll look for the safest place to land. And that I think is what's happening. Many of them do know that in the United States there are people who would receive them and that's where they go. Now, at the same time we should point out that -- Bishop, tell me what you would say -- tell me what you would say to governor Perry. You know his feelings on this. Well, I'd say to governor Perry, I know that he is a compassionate man, and I think we need to tune in to that side of our personhood. We know that there is great concern about people coming to our borders. We just need to find a way, first of all, to receive them according to existing laws that say we must receive people who are seeking asylum. In fact, they are not illegal if they are coming under those circumstances, and we need to look at the root causes also and see what we can do as a country to help the situation in central America. Okay, thanks very much for joining us, bishop.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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