Jul 21, 2014 8:24 PM by Lupita Murillo and Michel Marizco
Emails reviewed by the News 4 Tucson Investigators show the Homeland Security Department was warned of the coming Central American exodus in 2011. So why wasn't the Obama Administration prepared for the migrant child crisis it's now facing?
Blanca Celada fled the violence and poverty of El Salvador in 2009. She wanted to reach the U.S. for a peaceful life. Instead, she found the same corruption and ugly violence she was running from, right here on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Celada and her husband run a shelter in Nogales, Sonora, for migrants intending to cross the border illegally. Earlier this month, 20 Mexican police officers raided her shelter. They stole the personal belongings of 20 people, mostly Central Americans heading for the U.S. They even disabled a security camera.
"It's not right that they come here and do things like this," she said, one recent morning as she stood on the top deck of her shelter. "They're here supposedly to watch out for one, to protect one and to help one."
Mexican police officials have said they were not aware of the incident until a complaint surfaced.
But Celada lives in fear. She didn't want to complain.
"If I go complain, what i'm doing is throwing more wood on the fire," she said.
The steel bars of the U.S.'s border wall are just yards from the shelter. But the U.S. has proven to be an elusive dream for Celada. She fled Central America hoping to get away from situations like the one she's going through now, while still seven months pregnant with one of her six kids. She rode the notorious La Bestía, the freight train that led her to northern Mexico. She's lived in peace, she says, until now. And suddenly, people like the nameless migrants that have come to her looking for a place to stay the night before trying to cross the border, are the buzz in Washington, D.C. Congressional scrutiny and major headlines suddenly abound about a flow of Central American migrants that was once a trickle and now a rush of people that have overwhelmed U.S. border security.
Consider these numbers just for Honduras alone:
In 2009, 968 Honduran children were captured at the U.S. border. By 2012, the number grew to just under 3,000. In 2013, about 6,700 were apprehended., This fiscal year, 16,546. Honduras, a country that faced a coup in 2009, now tops Mexico for the number of children caught crossing into the U.S.
Lynn Marcus is co-director of the University of Arizona's Immigration Law Clinic. She says some of those Central American countries have destabilized and that's led to people fleeing here.
"It's been a combination of events. It's been the weakened institutions of the government, weakened by civil war and by coup. It's been the rising power of the cartels," Marcus said.
But Honduras' coup happened five years ago. So why wasn't the U.S. prepared for the rush of immigrants from Central America?
We put the question to the Homeland Security Department and to U.S. Customs and Border Protection last week. The department's response: "We are unable to accommodate your request at this time." Instead, a spokeswoman referred the News 4 Tucson Investigators to a link about unaccompanied minors on the Homeland Security website. The department also refused our request for an interview.
"Well, DHS and CBP were not prepared for this influx at all," says Tony Coulson, the retired Drug Enforcement Administration's assistant special-agent-in-charge of the Tucson office until 2010.
"Even though there was ample warning to them about problems with children and the influx of children that were going to come in."
In 2011, Coulson and non-profit groups approached Homeland Security with warnings about the coming exodus and asked to meet with DHS in order to be prepared for the crisis. Coulson's requests to meet went unanswered.
"They weren't prepared because from that time on, it was all about border security and a message and nobody wanted to talk about immigration at all from the administration," he said.
That message began in 2012 when then-Homeland Security Sec. Janet Napolitano paid a series of visits to border communities, lauding border security as a success. She spoke in Tucson at Border Patrol Headquarters in April 2013:
"Drug seizures are up substantially. Currency seizures are up 71 percent. And weapon seizures, including weapons going south, are up almost 190 percent," she said at the time.
"And over the past decade, Tucson's crime rate has continued to drop even as the city has continued to grow. These are all positive signs of a healthy, healthy border," she said at the time. Requests to interview Napolitano sent to her office at the University of California went unanswered.
So why did the U.S. ignore the warnings about the migrant crisis now hitting Tucson and the rest of the border communities for the past three years?
The Obama Administration isn't saying. But last week, it put the responsibility for how this all started on the news media.
A report leaked to Breitbart Texas from the El Paso Intelligence Center said news organizations in Central America spread wrong information that Central Americans could come up to the U.S. and stay.
The report states: "U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) also notes that a large number of migrants interviewed claimed family members in the United States encouraged their travel because the U.S. government would cease issuing permisos after June 2014.
"Migrants cited Univision, Primer Impacto, Al Rojo Vivo and several Honduran television news outlets for helping shape their perception of U.S. immigration policy."