For several weeks, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, the Obama administration has insisted that its policies have had little influence on the surge of Central American children – alone or with parents – across the Texas border. The White House Domestic Policy Council, under the direction of Cecilia Munoz, has asserted that the swelling influx (and growing humanitarian crisis in South Texas) is actually a response to the violence and poverty in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
That strategy has taken a series of blows over the past week, with the publication of internal government memos and a major story in the Washington Post describing U.S. policy as a powerful magnet for illegal immigration. Jorge Ramos, anchor on the Spanish-language television network Univision, on Sunday ratcheted up the challenge to White House credibility as he interviewed Munoz,, along with the mother of a Honduran youth who recently crossed the border illegally and Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat whose Texas district includes a large swath of the porous border.
After listening to a Cuellar description of the situation at the border, Ramos offered this incredulous summary of both the administration's policy and its inevitable effects on illegal immigration:
So, the official policy of the United States, as you have seen it in the state of Texas, is that whatever Central American child who comes to the United States is not going to be deported? Aren't we sending an extremely powerful message to Central America that will mean that many more children will continue to come?
Later he added that if word of U.S. policy spreads, "There is going to be an explosion of migrants."
Cuellar confirmed Ramos's view, saying the U.S. needs both to change its policy and work with Central American countries to stem the flow.
Ramos also discussed the border chaos with the mother of a 15-year-old Honduran boy recently detained by the Border Patrol. Marlen Mena Bautista said her son had decided on his own to come to the U.S., probably because he had heard stories of U.S. leniency at the border. Here is part of their exchange:
RAMOS: Do you have the perception that once children cross the border to the United States, they won't be deported?
BAUTISTA: That is what is being said in Central America, almost all the time...Almost everyone is saying it.
RAMOS: So what is being said in Central America...is that they don't deport children...So once they enter this country, they stay in this country?
BAUTISTA: Yes. I imagine that is why he decided to come.
In his interview with Munoz, Ramos did not directly raise the issue of White House insistence that its policies have had no significant role in the crisis. Instead, he pointed to a recent statement by the president of Honduras that his country would work to make sure the United States does not violate treaties that protect those fleeing from violence, then added: "The impression is...clearly, that a child who crosses the border to the United States is never going to be deported despite having a deportation order."
Responded Munoz: "That is not so. Clearly we have to have agreements with other countries to return young people who are arriving," affirming the administration's ability to carry out deportations. "Clearly we are going to take care of children who are arriving on their own, well and with compassion. But the law requires that we put them into deportation proceedings, and that is a very serious process."
Munoz said that while some of the children are being reunited with family members in the U.S. "they are in deportation proceedings, and many of them will have to go back."
Ramos asked a pointed question, referring to the 24,000 Central American children detained last year by the Border Patrol. "How many of them have been deported?"
Munoz responded: "They are still in the process. It is a lengthy process. So I can't tell you the number exactly. But what I can tell you is that under the current law and the bill passed last year in the Senate and also under DACA [the policy of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival decreed by President Obama], there is not an option for these young people. In every case there is no a possibility of obtaining permanent status."
In Ramos's earlier interview with Rep. Cuellar, the Texas congressman offered what he called a pragmatic evaluation of U.S. policy, which is releasing the detained children to the custody of relatives but ordering them to present themselves to authorities for a review of their cases.
"We know, practically, that they are not going to come back," he said. "And they are going to be here, part of the United States. That is what we are seeing."