Over the weekend, the Washington Post published an article detailing the extent that the Obama administration was warned of the surge of child refugees from Central America. The upshot is that the administration treated the increase in unaccompanied minors as a localized problem and was focused more on political considerations than alleviating the situation when it has had an opportunity to do so earlier. It was projected that some 60,000 minors would enter the US from Central America this year.
According to the Washington Post:
“Revised Border Patrol estimates now suggest the number could reach 90,000 by the end of September.
Last month, Obama ordered an emergency response overseen by the National Security Council and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and he asked Congress to approve $3.7 billion in emergency funds.
“What happened this year was . . . off-the-charts different,” Muñoz said. “It was not the same pattern. We assumed a significant increase, but this was not the same kind of trend line.
“This trend was more like a hockey stick, going up and up and up,” Muñoz added. “Nobody could have predicted the scale of the increase we saw this year. The minute we saw it, we responded in an aggressive way.”
But top officials at the White House and the State Department had been warned repeatedly of the potential for a further explosion in the number of migrant children since the crisis began escalating two years ago, according to former federal officials and others familiar with internal discussions. The White House was directly involved in efforts in early 2012 to care for the children when it helped negotiate a temporary shelter at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
“There were warning signs, operational folks raising red flags to high levels in terms of this being a potential issue,” said one former senior federal law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly about internal operations.”
These revelations about the level of preparedness for the unaccompanied minors is illustrative of the administration’s positioning toward Latin America and immigration in general. The U.S.’s influence in Central America has been diminishing after decades of interference that contributed to civil wars, and in President Obama’s first term, the administration lost more credibility in how it handled the coup of democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. The democratically elected Zelaya was replaced by a government that sent the army and police into the streets to crackdown on violence making the public fearful of their own authorities. Additionally, the tightening of the U.S.-Mexico border since 9/11 has meant that it has become harder for people to cross back and forth, prompting many undocumented people to remain in the country for fear of not being able to come back. And waging the drug war has empowered corrupt police forces throughout Latin America. All of these issues could have been viewed as potential triggers for mass migration north beyond the warnings from operational people serving within the government.
Photo credit: Rep. Henry Cuellar’s office