More than 50 percent of undocumented immigrant children who come into the U.S. remain in this country, an Obama Administration official told ABC News today.
At the moment, there is a backlog of more than 300,000 unaccompanied minor cases awaiting a decision on deportation due to a shortage of immigration judges and courts. It takes approximately 3-5 years to adjudicate each case.
During testimony today in front of the House Judiciary Committee, Tom Homan, the Executive Associate Director for Enforcement and Removal Operations with ICE testified about the reality of the backlog problem.
"I can say that every unaccompanied child and every family unit member are served with NTAs (Notice to Appear in immigration court) and … there's a lack of immigration judges and some of these hearings take years. "
In fact, while 26,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended entering the United States illegally last year, only 1800 minors were sent back to their home countries.
"87% of those are still here in proceedings … Because we have no final orders," Homan said.
And the problem has gotten worse. To date, more than 54,000 children have been apprehended just this year - a 99% increase from last year.
Of the children who come into the U.S., more than 50% are placed with parents or family members in the United States, the official told ABC News.
Still, the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, traveling in Arizona today, said despite what is happening in American immigration courts there is "no 'permisos'."
"I want to continue to emphasize to all those who are listening, including the parents of kids, parents that may be considering sending their kid from Central America, that this journey is a dangerous one and at the end of it there is no free pass, there is no 'permisos' for your children to come to the United States," Johnson said. "I have to say that the kids, while this is not an ideal situation, look as if they're being well-taken care of under the circumstance."
During today's White House press briefing, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, "We've identified a detention facility in New Mexico, and we're trying to add additional resources in the form of immigration judges and asylum officers and immigration prosecutors to try to process those cases more quickly.
"And, you know, this is a - this is a difficult task. What's driving a lot of this news right now is that there are a lot of children and adults that arrive at the border with children who are from other countries in Central America besides Mexico. The law is very clear about Mexico, that when those individuals are apprehended along the border, they can be immediately returned. The law is different when it applies to so-called noncontagious countries," he added.