MINNEAPOLIS — Under fire from Republicans for failing to stem the recent flood of young immigrants, President Barack Obama is delivering a message to Central American parents considering sending their children to the U.S. to escape violence and poverty at home: Don’t risk it.
“Our message absolutely is don’t send your children unaccompanied, on trains or through a bunch of smugglers,” Obama told ABC News on Thursday. “We don’t even know how many of these kids don’t make it, and may have been waylaid into sex trafficking or killed because they fell off a train.”
“Do not send your children to the borders,” Obama said. “If they do make it, they’ll get sent back. More importantly, they may not make it.”
The administration says an estimated 52,000 unaccompanied minors have been detained since October, driven from their homes by violence and false rumors that they’ll be allowed to stay.
Republicans argue that the Obama administration’s lax deportation policies and gaps in security at the border have fueled the rumors. Some have called on Obama to send the National Guard to address the crisis. Others have urged him to issue a public warning.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., this week argued that Obama needed to make U.S. policy clear. The president should go on television and “openly say” that minors who reach the border are “going to go back,” McCain said Wednesday at a breakfast for reporters in Washington sponsored by The Wall Street Journal.
The situation is threatening to become a political liability for the president, who is pushing for an overhaul to the immigration system and has vowed to take executive action to ease deportations if lawmakers don’t act by the end of July. Obama’s advisers have slowed that timeline, as they eye whether the problems — and the images of crowded detention facilities and courts — stir up opposition ahead of the November election.
Meanwhile, some are labeling the situation a “refugee crisis” and calling on the White House to treat it that way. On Friday, Randy Falco, chief executive and president of the Spanish-language media company Univision Communications, said Obama should “treat these children as we would when natural disasters happen.”
“Why are we not allowing organizations such as the American Red Cross and other humanitarian groups to support the efforts as they do in natural disasters,” Falco wrote in a letter to Obama and released to the media.
Falco questioned whether there has been a “lack of transparency” at the temporary centers where the children are being housed while they wait to be processed. He said the administration was “limiting any access beyond coordinated tours and approved footage and photos, adding to the concerns about the conditions in these centers.”
The Obama administration has enlisted the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist in housing and caring for the children. It also has created temporary camps at Border Patrol stations, as well as at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio and at Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme.