WASHINGTON - US authorities have stressed that thousands of underage migrants rushing to make it into the United States, most of them from violent regions of Central America, will face deportation.
"While some might make asylum requests, I want to make very clear that asylum is very difficult to obtain. Very few people get asylum in the United States," Esther Olavarria, an adviser to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, said Monday.
The United States has seen a huge surge in young migrants fleeing gang violence and poverty in Central America - mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
US officials say they have detained more than 52,000 unaccompanied children trying to enter the country from October 2013 and mid-June - more than twice the number detained from October 2012 through the end of 2013.
Some enter the country and request asylum. Others contact relatives already in the United States and petition to remain.
There has also been an increase in the number of mothers traveling with their children, officials say. Many reports say smugglers fuel rumours that some US permit or temporary status may be granted for minors, apparently to keep business booming.
But Johnson himself insisted in a lengthy editorial in US Spanish-language media at the weekend that the United States would not grant residents' permits to undocumented youths.
"To the parents of these children I have one simple message: Sending your child to travel illegally into the United States is not the solution," Johnson wrote.
"In the hands of smugglers, many children are traumatized and psychologically abused by their journey, or worse, beaten, starved, sexually assaulted or sold into the sex trade ... (and) there are no 'permisos,' 'permits' or free passes at the end.
"If your child is caught crossing the border illegally, he or she will be charged with violating United States immigration laws, and placed in deportation proceedings - a situation no one wants.
"The document issued to your child is not a 'permiso,' but a 'Notice To Appear' in a deportation proceeding before an immigration judge," Johnson underscored.
Vice President Joe Biden, on a visit to Guatemala on Friday, said Central American child migrants leave their countries because of poverty, violent crime and a failure of local legal systems.
Guatemalan President Otto Perez has blamed the problem on Washington's failure to reform its immigration policy and provide a path to citizenship for 12 million immigrants already in the country.
The increased flow of migrants "is a serious humanitarian issue standing alone ... and ... it is a fundamentally shared problem for the United States, Mexico, and this entire region," Biden said.