Obama Meets With Central American Leaders, Proposes New Refugee-Screening Program

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 17: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks about Obamacare and the ongoing tensions in Ukraine in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House April 17, 2014 in Washington, DC. Secretary of State John Kerry and his counterparts from Russia, Ukraine and the EU issued a joint statement today on the crisis in Ukraine calling for all illegal armed groups to be disarmed, all illegally seized buildings to be returned to their owners, and for all occupied public spaces to be vacated. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
National Journal
George E. Condon Jr.
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
George E. Condon Jr.
July 25, 2014, 1:12 p.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama fought the battle of the bor­der on two fronts Fri­day, meet­ing with the lead­ers of the three Cent­ral Amer­ic­an coun­tries that have sent the most chil­dren in­to the United States while the White House con­tin­ued to press Con­gress to ap­prove the money he said he needs to send the kids back home.

The pres­id­ent met for about two hours with Guatem­alan Pres­id­ent Otto Perez Mo­lina, Hon­dur­an Pres­id­ent Juan Or­lando Hernan­dez, and El Sal­vador Pres­id­ent Sal­vador Sanc­hez Cer­en, a day after they had talked to lead­ers on Cap­it­ol Hill. At the meet­ing, Obama pro­posed a pi­lot pro­gram that would be­gin in Hon­dur­as be­fore be­ing ex­pan­ded to oth­er coun­tries. In it, those ap­ply­ing for refugee status would be screened in their own coun­tries be­fore mak­ing the dan­ger­ous trek to the United States, rather than after ar­riv­ing here.

White House press sec­ret­ary Josh Earn­est cast this pi­lot pro­gram as one way to stem the flow of chil­dren. “We want to try to find a way that we can meet the hu­man­it­ari­an needs of these in­di­vidu­als,” he said. “And work­ing with host gov­ern­ments to es­tab­lish re­pat­ri­ation cen­ters is an im­port­ant step in that pro­cess.”

The White House was vague on the spe­cif­ics of the pro­gram, however. “At this stage it’s too early for me to say what those num­bers would look like,” Earn­est said. “But our broad­er in­tent here is as a broad mes­sage of de­terrence, that people would see that there is an or­gan­ized pro­cess if they feel like they have a le­git­im­ate asylum claim, that they don’t need to make the dan­ger­ous jour­ney to the U.S. to make that asylum claim, that they can be pro­cessed in their own coun­try. And that would, we hope, serve as a pretty ef­fect­ive de­terrent.”

The White House meet­ing was de­signed to com­ple­ment an edu­ca­tion of­fens­ive moun­ted in Cent­ral Amer­ica by the United States, with ad­vert­ise­ments ur­ging par­ents not to sub­ject their chil­dren to the jour­ney north­ward and warn­ing them that their kids would not be al­lowed to re­main in this coun­try.

The fo­cus has been on these three coun­tries be­cause the ad­min­is­tra­tion con­tends that more than 57,000 chil­dren have been smuggled across the bor­der from there since Oc­to­ber. All three are be­set by vi­ol­ence and drug-re­lated gangs and all three lead­ers in­sist the United States shares blame for the bor­der crisis be­cause of this coun­try’s ap­pet­ite for drugs.

In the brief part of the meet­ing when re­port­ers were present, Obama said, “Chil­dren who do not have prop­er claims “¦ will at some point be sub­ject to re­pat­ri­ation to their home coun­tries.” But he said he agreed with the three vis­it­ing pres­id­ents on the need to ad­dress the poverty and vi­ol­ence that had led so many to send their chil­dren to the United States.

“I em­phas­ized that the Amer­ic­an people and my ad­min­is­tra­tion have great com­pas­sion for these chil­dren,” he said, adding, “But I also em­phas­ized to my friends that we have to de­ter a con­tinu­ing in­flux of chil­dren put­ting them­selves at risk.”

Even while the meet­ing was un­der­way, the White House main­tained the pres­sure on Con­gress to act on the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­quest for money to deal with the crisis be­fore break­ing for Au­gust next week. Earn­est ac­know­ledged that the pres­id­ent has not per­son­ally phoned Speak­er John Boehner to get the bill through, in­sist­ing that Boehner first needs to work out dif­fer­ences in his own Re­pub­lic­an caucus. Boehner “said that he was still dis­cuss­ing among his mem­bers what they felt like they could do. It doesn’t sound to me like they’re in a po­s­i­tion to be­gin ne­go­ti­at­ing, at least be­gin ne­go­ti­at­ing with the White House. It still ap­pears that “¦ three weeks after we’ve made our re­quest, the House Re­pub­lic­ans are still ne­go­ti­at­ing among them­selves what to do.”

But Earn­est said time is run­ning out. “We’re con­cerned about this be­cause there’s only one week left be­fore they de­part Wash­ing­ton, D.C., for their an­nu­al five-week re­cess in Au­gust. And that means that this is a pivotal week that’s com­ing up. There are a lot of pri­or­it­ies that re­main un­done and we’re pretty con­cerned about that.”

He ad­ded, “What we’ve seen from Con­gress is a lot of talk but not really any ac­tion. And that is a dis­ap­point­ment “¦ that they’re not will­ing to live up to their own rhet­or­ic when it comes to deal­ing with this is­sue.”

In a let­ter to Obama this week, Boehner said “House Re­pub­lic­ans have been clear that we want to work with you to help the vic­tims of the ter­rible hu­man­it­ari­an crisis at our south­ern bor­der—par­tic­u­larly the chil­dren, who have been cruelly duped in­to mak­ing a per­il­ous jour­ney.” He chal­lenged Obama to show more lead­er­ship on the is­sue.

House Re­pub­lic­ans met in a closed-door meet­ing Fri­day to hash out a plan with­in their own caucus, and a bill will likely be presen­ted Monday.

Many mem­bers are staunch in their res­ist­ance to change a 2008 anti-traf­fick­ing law to al­low Cent­ral Amer­ic­an chil­dren to be re­turned vol­un­tar­ily—a no­tion many Demo­crats op­pose and Obama’s emer­gency sup­ple­ment­al re­quest does not in­clude.

But it’s im­per­at­ive to pass some le­gis­la­tion aimed at curb­ing the crisis at the bor­der be­fore the Au­gust re­cess or mem­bers shouldn’t leave for their sum­mer re­prieve, said Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas. Though dis­trust of the pres­id­ent to en­force the law is palp­able with­in the Re­pub­lic­an Party, there could be polit­ic­al fal­lout if the House fails to act, Rep. Bill Flores said Fri­day morn­ing.

“I think we have a big polit­ic­al risk if we leave without do­ing any­thing,” the Texas Re­pub­lic­an said.

Dis­cus­sions will con­tin­ue next week. And the Sen­ate and the House have much to hash out, in­clud­ing wide gaps in how much they’re will­ing to spend to ad­dress the crisis at the bor­der.

Rachel Roubein contributed to this article.
What We're Following See More »
IRANIANS CAME WITHIN 1,000 METERS
U.S. Navy Vessel Fired Flare at Iranian Boat on Monday
6 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

"A U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer fired a warning flare toward an Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel coming near it in the Persian Gulf. The incident happened Monday as the vessel closed to within 1,000 meters of the USS Mahan, "despite the destroyer trying to turn away from it." After attempting to contact the Iranian vessel and sounding its whistle, it deployed the flare. After that, the ship had had enough and turned away.

Source:
ON SANCTUARY CITIES
White House Attacks Judge Who Suspended Executive Order
33 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

U.S. District Judge William Orrick Tuesday blocked the Trump administration from enforcing part of an executive order calling for the end of federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities. The decision was followed by a scathing rebuke from the White House, a precedent-breaking activity which with this White House has had no qualms. A White House statement called the decision an "egregious overreach by a single, unelected district judge." The statement was followed by an inaccurate Wednesday morning tweetstorm from Trump, which railed against the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. While Judge Orrick's district falls within the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit, Orrick himself does not serve on the Ninth Circuit.

MAY BRING CONSERVATIVES ON BOARD, BUT WHAT ABOUT MODERATES?
House GOP Circulates Amendment on Preexisting Conditions
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

"House Republicans are circulating the text of an amendment to their ObamaCare replacement bill that they believe could bring many conservatives on board. According to legislative text of the amendment," drafted by Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), "the measure would allow states to apply for waivers to repeal one of ObamaCare’s core protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Conservatives argue the provision drives up premiums for healthy people, but Democrats—and many more moderate Republicans—warn it would spark a return to the days when insurance companies could charge sick people exorbitantly high premiums."

AT LEAST 30 TO BE ASSESSED
Trump to Order Review of National Monuments
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

President Trump on Wednesday "will order a review of national monuments created over the past 20 years with an aim toward rescinding or resizing some of them—part of a broader push to reopen areas to drilling, mining, and other development." Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told reporters on Tuesday said he'd be reviewing about 30 monuments.

Source:
EMERGING BUDGET FRAMEWORK?
Dems Proposes Obamacare-for-Defense Deal
19 hours ago
THE LATEST

"An emerging government funding deal would see Democrats agree to $15 billion in additional military funding in exchange for the GOP agreeing to fund healthcare subsidies, according to two congressional officials briefed on the talks. Facing a Friday deadline to pass a spending bill and avert a shutdown, Democrats are willing to go halfway to President Trump’s initial request of $30 billion in supplemental military funding."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login