The Obama administration stressed Monday that child migrants entering the country illegally must go through deportation proceedings, but continued to avoid answering questions about how many of them actually show up and end up getting deported.
On a background call with reporters, senior administration officials reiterated that the unaccompanied minors are ineligible for “deferred action” waivers from deportation.
But officials moved on without offering statistics or estimates about how many kids are ultimately being sent back to their home countries.
CQ Weekly reported last month on how the unprecedented surge of children trekking more than 1,000 miles from Central America to the U.S.-Mexico border to escape intensifying violence in their home countries has overwhelmed federal resources in a matter of weeks.
With Republican lawmakers blaming Obama administration immigration policies for driving the recent flood of minors illegally crossing into Texas, the White House has found itself on the defensive. A top official said Monday that the White House wants to make it “abundantly clear” that violence in Central America is propelling the increase.
The official’s explanation followed comments earlier Monday by Josh Earnest, the White House deputy press secretary, who told reporters that he “wouldn’t put a lot of stock in the ability of Republican members of Congress to divine the thoughts and insights of children in Central American countries.”
Criticism from Republicans lawmakers heated up last week, after Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced that his department would immediately begin renewing deportation waivers for certain immigrants who entered the country as children before June 15, 2007.
Administration officials have reiterated that those policies and the ones proposed under the Senate-passed immigration bill (S 744) would not apply to recent entrants.
“If there are children that are coming to this country now thinking that they are eligible for the DREAM Act, they’re not,” Earnest said.
But foreign minors who have been abused, abandoned or neglected are eligible for special immigrant juvenile status and can get green cards to live and work in the United States permanently if they are unable to be reunited with a parent.
The issue has taken on a partisan tone.
“The recent surge of children and teenagers from Central America showing up at our Southern border is an administration-made disaster,” House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., said in a written statement last week. “Word has gotten out around the world about President Obama’s lax immigration enforcement policies and it has encouraged more individuals to come to the United States illegally, many of whom are children from Central America.”
Casting the onus back on Congress to improve immigration policies in a way that could quell the influx of immigrant children, administration officials have urged lawmakers to move forward this summer with a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration system.
“If anything, it certainly highlights once again the need to try to address the problem of immigration reform — that this is a broken system that we’re operating under,” Earnest said.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.