WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama met yesterday with three Central American leaders to try to get control of an humanitarian crisis triggered by a tide of child migrants crossing the southern US border.
Obama’s won pledges of support from the presidents of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador and repeated his appeals to Central American parents not to send their kids north.
“We reiterated our commitment to prevent families and children from undertaking this dangerous journey and to work together to promote safe, legal, and orderly migration,” the four said in a joint statement.
They also pledged to pursue the smugglers that prey upon migrants desperate to reach the United States and to “counter misinformation about US immigration policy” that encourages the exodus.
The US president, in remarks to reporters following the hour-and-a-half long meeting stressed that Americans feel “great compassion” for the child migrants, who have often endured tremendous suffering before and during their journey.
“But I also emphasized to my friends that we have to deter a continuing influx of children putting themselves at risk,” he said.
Obama has sought to pour cold water on the hopes of millions of families in Central America planning to join the tens of thousands of young migrants and their relatives arriving in the United States.
And he warned that many of those who manage to cross the border fail to qualify for longterm residency status.
“There may be some narrow circumstances in which there is humanitarian or refugee status that a family might be eligible for,” Obama said.
“But I think it’s important to recognize that that would not necessarily accommodate a large number of additional migrants.”
His Central American counterparts gave no comment to the US media immediately after the White House meeting.
But they have already pinned some blame for the flood of young migrants at Washington’s door.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez said recently that the child migrant phenomenon is closely connected to drug-related, as well as somewhat fuzzy US immigration policy.
“It is a matter that arises, we believe, from the lack of clarity, or ambiguity, that has become the hallmark of the policies and the debates on immigration reform in the United States,” he said during a visit to the US Congress on Thursday.
For the White House, the crisis is the visible symptom of a broken immigration system in desperate need of reform.
The US Senate last year passed an immigration reform bill that included a path to legalization for the 11 million undocumented immigrants now in the country, but the measure has run aground in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Now Obama -- who made immigration one of the central campaign themes in 2008 and 2012 -- finds himself facing mid-term legislative elections as the debate over immigration takes a heated turn.
“The conversation has become more toxic and what Obama is dealing with now is layers of politicization of the issue,” said Audrey Singer of the Brookings Institution.