By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Since October, 52,000 unaccompanied children have arrived on the U.S. border with Mexico, the Department of Homeland Security said on Friday, underscoring an immigration problem seen by the White House as a humanitarian crisis.
The figure is for the period from Oct. 1 to June 15. Last week, the department said between October and May, more than 47,000 unaccompanied minors, mostly from Central America, crossed into the United States, nearly double the number from the previous 12 months.
Additional immigration judges are being dispatched to deal with asylum cases, and the United States is providing $9.6 million in additional support for Central American governments to receive and reintegrate their repatriated citizens, department officials said in a teleconference with reporters.
Ricardo Zuniga, the National Security Council's senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, said steps are being taken in Central America to address a surge in violent crime and gang activity that many of the youth say is driving them to the United States.
"They know that we are all interested in preventing the dangerous migration of young children," he told reporters.
Even as the administration scrambles to manage the waves of children, critics have said the influx underscores the Obama administration's failure to enforce current border security.
"After years of ignoring the law and sending a very dangerous message to Central American families, the administration is finally taking small steps to address this enormous problem. Now, it remains to be seen if the president will follow through," said Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Friday visited a facility within a U.S. Air Force Base in San Antonio that was recently set up to process and house the children coming into the United States.
Vice President Joe Biden also added a stop in Guatemala on Friday to a scheduled Latin America trip to meet Central American leaders for talks on the dilemma. [ID:nL2N0P1007]
On Thursday, President Barack Obama spoke with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto about a strategy to deal with a flood of children coming from Central America to the United States, the White House said.
(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Susan Heavey)