Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, left, sits with Deputy Chief of Border Patrol Ronald D. Vitiello, on Capitol Hill as they testify before the House Homeland Security Committee hearing regarding the growing problem of unaccompanied children crossing the border into the U.S. (Charles Dharapak / AP)
Washington — Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told Congress on Tuesday he would consider every conceivable, lawful option to deal with a continuing flood of immigrants crossing the U.S. border illegally in South Texas.
Johnson told the House Homeland Security Committee that he won’t rule out using National Guard troops, as several lawmakers have suggested, but he warned that there are limitations to using troops to help manage what has become a humanitarian crisis at the border.
“I’ve heard the calls from some that we put the Guard on the border. I’d want to understand better what the options are for the use of the Guard,” Johnson told lawmakers during more than two hours of questioning. “But there are definitely some limitations on the use of the Guard in this respect, I think, and we have to be mindful of those.”
The White House indicated later in the day it wasn’t interested in the proposal to deploy troops.
“There has already been a historic commitment of resources to the border,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Since last October, Border Patrol agents have apprehended more than 52,000 immigrant children crossing the border alone. Most of the young immigrants are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala and have been caught in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.
At the same time, the Border Patrol has arrested more than 39,000 adults with children. An unknown number of those immigrants have been released with notices to report to Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices near their final destinations inside the United States.
The administration has refused to say how many of those people have been released or how many have reported as ordered. Earnest told reporters Tuesday that he did not have the number but added, “Without knowing what that number is ... I think we can all stipulate that that number is too high.”