White House Repeatedly Warned About Border Crisis but Put Politics First

The White House was warned repeatedly that there was a growing crisis of unaccompanied minors on the border but chose not to address the issue for fear it would ruin the President’s push for comprehensive immigration reform.

A story in the Washington Post highlights a number of times the Obama administration was warned of the growing crisis on the border. For instance, a 2012 report by the Women’s Refugee Commission spelled out the growing number of unaccompanied minors at the border which started in the fall of 2011. The group’s director tells the Post, “I don’t think they ignored this on purpose, but they didn’t know what to do.”

Governor Rick Perry of Texas was more less generous in his assessment. He sent a letter to the President in May of 2012 which now reads like an explicit (and accurate) warning of what was coming. Perry wrote, “as your administration is fully aware, there is a surge of
unaccompanied illegal minors entering the United States.” The letter goes on to say, “by failing to take immediate
action to return these minors to their countries of origin and prevent and discourage others from
coming here, the federal government is perpetuating the problem.” The letter also notes that “projections” suggest the number of UACs will continue to rise and states that the federal government has “no long-term plan to address the situation.”

In the summer of 2013 UTEP, a group of investigators funded by DHS, found that the system appeared to be overwhelmed. The group’s report, published in March of this year, indicated the problem now seemed to be self-perpetuating, exactly as Gov. Perry had suggested in 2012. The report states [emphasis added]:

Both Border Patrol and ICE ERO officers agreed that the lack of deterrence for crossing the US-Mexican border has impacted the rate at which they apprehend UACs. Officers are certain that UACs are aware of the relative lack of consequences they will receive when apprehended at the U.S. border…the current policy is very similar to the ‘catch & release’ problem that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) faced prior to the passage of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.

The Post story makes it clear that the administration didn’t just fumble its response to the situation. The crisis was ignored for two years because of political considerations including the President’s re-election and his push for comprehensive immigration reform.

An unnamed source with knowledge of the situation tells the Post it came down to an internal disagreement between White House national security staffers worried about the border and “domestic policy advisers” focused on the politics. The individual tells the Post, “Was the White House told there were huge flows of Central Americans coming? Of course they were told. A lot of times. Was there a general lack of interest and a focus on the legislation? Yes, that’s where the focus was.” In other words, the White House put its political goals over dealing with the crisis when it would have been more manageable.

Throughout the last two months the White House has blamed the situation on violence in Central America and a 2008 law which makes it harder to deport minors from these countries. The administration has denied that its push for “prosecutorial discretion” in 2011 and “deferred action” in 2012 play a role in the current crisis. But there are now multiple reasons to believe that a technically inaccurate but ultimately realistic impression of current U.S. policy has played a role in escalating the situation.