After a few weeks of a flood of minors entering the US illegally via smugglers and cartels, Barack Obama finally offered an unequivocal and strong statement that the effort will ultimately be futile. The signals from Washington DC on executive actions to end deportations and grant minors quasi-legal status set off a chain reaction that ended up having tens of thousands of children make their way through dangerous means to cross the southern border. This morning, Obama told George Stephanopoulos that all of these children will get sent back (via Daniel Halper):
“You mentioned immigration,” said the ABC host George Stephanopoulos. “There’s a humanitarian crisis on the border. Some of your critics have said you need to speak out more directly to the people of Central America and say, don’t come. If you come, you will be deported.”
“We actually — we’ve done that,” Obama said. “The problem is that, under current law, once the kids come across the border, there’s a system in which we’re supposed to process them, take care of them, until we can send them back.”
“Is your message don’t come?”
“Oh,” said Obama, “our message absolutely is don’t send your children unaccompanied on trains or through a bunch of smugglers. That is our direct message to families in Central America. Do not send your children to the borders. If they do make it, they’ll get sent back. More importantly, they may not make it.”
First, it’s almost inexplicable that this has to be explained to any parent. Some of these children come accompanied by their mothers, but many others are not. The act of putting a child on a train by himself to illegally cross a border hundreds or thousands of miles away boggles the mind — and, in another sense, demonstrates the kind of desperation that exists in these regions.
Now that this crisis has begun to impede on the White House’s efforts to get immigration reform back on track, the administration has started to treat it like a crisis. A new detention center has opened in New Mexico with the mission to fast-track deportations for the flood of refugees. It also spells the end of the so-called “catch and release” policy:
A detention center being opened in southeastern New Mexico to deal with the surge in women caught crossing illegally with children into the U.S. from Central America will be focused on deporting the immigrants quickly, officials said Thursday.
During a media tour of the austere barracks at a federal law enforcement training center turned immigration jail, a senior U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official said the goal is to process the immigrants and have them deported within 10 to 15 days to send a message back to their home countries that there are consequences for illegal immigration. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to talk publicly citing agency policy.
About a month ago, border patrol agents were suddenly overwhelmed by thousands of Central American immigrant children and women seeking to enter the U.S. Because officials had run out of room at holding facilities, they began releasing immigrant families and requiring them to report back within 15 days.
With this new facility, women found crossing with children will not be released, but held and quickly processed, a step toward returning the department to its policy of not releasing families and deporting those who don’t have permission to enter the U.S. legally.
That was the minimum effort needed from Obama to get Republicans back to the table on immigration reform, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) told the Christian Science Monitor yesterday, but it will take more than that as well:
On Wednesday the chairman sent a letter to the president saying he would “be delighted to work with you on legislative reform efforts if you believe them necessary to successfully obtain removal orders against or otherwise remove the unaccompanied alien minors and family units overwhelming our southern border.” Goodlatte is leading a committee trip to the border next Wednesday and Thursday.
As for the general issue of immigration reform, he repeated the GOP demand for “enforcement first.”
That means agreeing to enforce current laws on the books and new laws that are necessary to impose that enforcement. As examples he listed: the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act (SAFE), which allows state and local officials to aid enforcement of immigration laws; mandatory employer verification of legal status of workers – rather than today’s voluntary system; and a biometric entry-and-exit system to track visa overstays.
These things need to be done first, he said, before there can be any movement on other immigration issues.
This crisis validates Republican concerns about immigration reform that does not first secure the border and put the US on a footing that will prevent normalization from becoming a magnet for future refugee floods such as this one. That’s a problem for the White House, which has insisted that it had secured the border sufficiently to proceed with comprehensive reform. Perhaps now a borders-first approach will get taken seriously, but probably not until after the election — and certainly not while children flood across the borders as is happening now.