By Jeff Mason
RANCHO MIRAGE Calif. (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will go to Guatemala on Friday to meet Central American leaders about the influx of unaccompanied minors illegally entering the United States, senior administration officials said on Sunday.
Biden is adding the stop to an already scheduled trip to Brazil, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.
Biden will meet the presidents of Guatemala and El Salvador as well as a senior government official from Honduras to follow up on the Obama administration’s efforts to discourage parents in those countries from sending their children on dangerous trips to the United States.
Between October and May, more than 47,000 unaccompanied minors, mostly from Central America, have crossed into the United States, nearly double the number in the previous 12 months, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told a news conference in Washington last week.
The U.S. government is making available facilities, including three military bases, to house the children.
Johnson made clear that the children would not qualify to stay in the United States as part of immigration reform efforts before the U.S. Congress and said those apprehended at the border would be priorities for removal.
U.S. officials said Biden would reiterate that message in an effort to discourage parents from putting their children in the hands of smugglers.
“It’s not worth subjecting children to a perilous journey when at the end of the day there’s no light at the end of the tunnel,” one official told reporters on a conference call.
Biden would also talk about ways that the United States can enhance its support for the affected countries. Violence and a lack of economic opportunity were contributing largely to the problem, the officials said.
Biden was likely to address the issue of Iraq publicly in the coming days, an official said, indicating that would happen during the trip. He did not give further details.
President Barack Obama is expected to decide soon whether to authorize U.S. air strikes to stem an insurgency in the country.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Jim Loney and Dan Grebler)