For weeks now Republicans have been suggesting that the Obama administration is partly to blame for the current border crisis. The administration has repeatedly denied this. But if you look closely it’s not hard to find evidence the White House knows their own policies played a role.
Did President Obama’s executive move to grant deferred action to children play a role in the current crisis? The White House says no and the left has adopted that stance wholeheartedly. Consider this Q&A card published by Vox:
Has the Obama administration’s immigration policy encouraged children to come to the US illegally?
There’s no evidence to suggest it has, and plenty of evidence to suggest it hasn’t.
There’s more if you care to read all of it, but the blanket denial is simply not true no matter who utters it. There is some pretty clear evidence DACA played a role and you only need to look at the statements of various administration officials to find it.
Last month, Vice President Biden traveled to Guatemala to meet with Central American leaders. While there he gave a public speech in which he announced the roll out of a series of investments (in centers for returning children as well as efforts to curb violence). The Vice President ended his speech with a point about confusion over U.S. border policy:
Finally and critically, all of us in our meetings today agreed to
work to counter and correct the misinformation smugglers are propagating
about U.S. immigration policy, and discourage families from sending
their children on this perilous journey.
These minors that have recently come are not eligible — they are not
eligible to what’s referred to as deferred action. A deferred action
process. Not if they arrived in the past seven years. Let’s get this
straight. Any minor who arrived in the past seven years is not eligible
for deferred action.
This was a prepared speech, not part of a Q&A session. Of course VP Biden has been known to go off script at times and say things the White House wishes he had not. So is there any chance this mention of DACA was accidental?
In fact there is no chance this was an accident. The same day Biden was in Guatemala talking with leaders there, three top White House advisers held a conference call for reporters about the same policy roll out. One of those was Ricardo Zuñiga, Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs in the National Security Council. When a reporter asked about efforts to publicize the new policy shift Mr. Zuñiga answered as follows:
Let me just jump in there. Making sure this is well understood and that
the facts around U.S. immigration policy are well understood is the
main factor behind having the Vice President meet with the Presidents in
those three Central American countries today. Our embassies in those
countries are also undertaking public messaging and the governments
themselves are making clear to their own publics that people who travel
— that minors who travel under this current migration are not going to
be eligible for deferred action, nor will they be benefiting from any
comprehensive immigration reform.
A CNN story published the next day echoed the claim about the purpose of Biden’s visit. And another reporter who was on the conference call saw it as an admission of culpability by the White House. Mario Trujillo of the Hill wrote, “White House officials acknowledged some of the thousands of children
seeking refuge in the United States are coming, in part, because they
think they would be allowed to stay in the country because of President
The White House also put out a Fact Sheet the same day. Under the heading “ongoing programs” is this bullet point:
We are collaborating on campaigns to help potential migrants understand
the significant danger of relying on human smuggling networks and to
reinforce that recently arriving children and individuals are not
eligible for programs like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,
commonly called DACA, and earned citizenship provisions in comprehensive
immigration reform currently under consideration in the Congress.
If this is accurate we must have already been making some effort to explain that DACA was not applicable to children arriving now. But the White House plan was to “reinforce” that message. In fact, the Fact Sheet notes, “The Vice President will reiterate that unaccompanied children and adults
arriving with their children are not eligible to benefit from the
passage of immigration reform legislation or from the Deferred Action
for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) process.”
A little more than a week after this flurry of announcements, Gil Kerlikowske, the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protections gave a press conference at the Rio Grande River. Kerlikowske announced a new multimedia effort to discourage childhood immigration and made clear what the administration’s message was.
There’s no doubt that Kerlikowske was speaking from a prepared script. A webpage devoted to the “Humanitarian Challenges” of the crisis states:
The message from the U.S. government on immigration is clear–if you cross illegally into the U.S.:
- you cannot earn a path to citizenship;
- you are not eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA;
- you will not get papers that allow you to stay; and
- you are putting yourself, or your child, in danger.
The slightly simpler version of this message adopted for thousands of paid media spots (TV, radio and print) in Central America is this:
- The journey is too dangerous;
- Children will not get legal papers if they make it.
- They are the future–let’s protect them.
So while DACA is not explicitly mentioned in the ads, it is one of the issues being addressed in general by point number two of the government’s messaging.
It should go without saying that the White House would not have
coordinated a message about DACA unless they believed it was a source of
the current confusion. If the entire administration keeps talking about
it, someone must see a good reason for doing so.
And as we’ve seen, that’s exactly what has happened. The White House, the
Vice President, the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, the Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs in the National Security
Council–everyone agrees that DACA plays a role in the crisis.
This week White House spokesman Josh Earnest announced that apprehensions of minors at the border were down from highs last month. Some of this was seasonal but Earnest was clearly trying to claim some early success for the administration’s efforts. And what have those efforts been? No money has been appropriated by Congress. USAID commitments to spend millions curbing violence in Central America are not off the ground yet. The only thing the administration has done is communicate a message about DACA and immigration reform.
As it happens, that message isn’t entirely true, at least not the part about what happens to kids who arrive at our border. Deportations have been down every year since 2008. Most children who arrive from Central America do not go home, including the ones who are eventually told they have to leave by our courts. The coyotes may have the intricacies of U.S. policy wrong but, unfortunately for everyone involved, they get the gist. In the long run, changing perceptions abroad is probably going to require more than an ad campaign which only partly reflects reality.