President Barack Obama's administration said Tuesday that Mexican cooperation was crucial for stopping children illegally crossing the border, as US lawmakers demanded Mexico and other governments take stronger action to stem the crisis.
With the number of underage, unaccompanied migrants rushing to make it into the United States more than doubling in the last year, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told Congress that Mexico and Washington must beef up cooperation to meet their "shared border security interests."
"Clearly, a key to this is what the government of Mexico can do," Johnson told a House panel.
Johnson was asked to detail the actions taken by Obama's administration to deal with some 52,000 undocumented youths who have surged over the border into the United States in the last nine months.
About two-thirds of the children are from Central American countries like Honduras and Guatemala, which Johnson said he would visit July 8-9 in a bid to reduce the flow from that country and coordinate the reintegration of Guatemalan youths.
Some enter US territory and request asylum. Others contact relatives already in the United States and petition to remain.
Washington talked tough at the weekend, warning that the majority of detained youths would be deported.
But lawmakers also pointed the finger at Mexico and Central America, saying Washington ought to cut foreign aid to nations that facilitate smuggling.
"Regarding Mexico, which is our neighbor and one of our largest trading partners, they are behaving so badly and so dishonorably that they are complicit in human smuggling," House Republican Candice Miller told Johnson.
"Instead of increasing funding... I would say, no more money from America until they step up to their own responsibilities, and stop their citizens illegally migrating to the US."
Other lawmakers like conservative congressman Paul Broun accused Washington of complicity in the problem.
"I think this administration is inviting these kids, and is inviting immigrant aliens to come to this country," Broun said.
Johnson for his part said he would travel Wednesday to Nogales, Arizona, to inspect centers where many of the children have been detained, reportedly in bad conditions.
The issue has swelled into another scandal for the Obama administration, but Johnson stressed it was incumbent on US officials to treat the migrants humanely.
"We are talking about large numbers of children, without their parents, who have arrived at our border -- hungry, thirsty, exhausted, scared and vulnerable," Johnson said.
"How we treat the children, in particular, is a reflection of our laws and our values."
House Speaker John Boehner has pricked Obama for a slow response to the situation, and last week wrote the president urging him to dispatch the National Guard to care for the detained youths.
"We've got... a humanitarian disaster on the border, most of it the president's making, in my opinion," Boehner said Tuesday.