President Obama made a personal plea Friday for the families of Central America not to send their children to America, trying to stanch the crisis of illegal immigrant youths flooding across the border.
"Our message is absolutely don't send your children unaccompanied on trains or through a bunch of smugglers," Mr. Obama said on ABC's "Good Morning America."
He made the plea in response to a bipartisan group of senators who Thursday demanded that he "personally make clear" that minors jumping the border won't get special treatment.
The president, who continues to struggle with how to deal with the thousands of unaccompanied alien children flooding across the southern border, stressed that the journey to America isn't safe for children traveling alone and that the U.S. will send them home after they arrive.
"Our message is absolutely don't send your children unaccompanied on trains or through a bunch of smugglers," he said. "That is our direct message to the families of Central America: Do not send your children to the borders. If they do make it, they'll get sent back. More importantly, they might not make it."
Still, Mr. Obama said children who cross the border will not be immediately returned home. He said that under current law, "we take care of them until we can send them back."
As the administration has scrambled to find facilities to temporarily house the children, it's remained unclear how many will be sent home or how long it will take.
More than 50 percent of children who illegally cross the border alone will be allowed to remain in United States, an Obama administration official told ABC News.
The administration has called the wave of children a "humanitarian crisis" driven by children fleeing to the United States to escape rampant gang violence in their home countries.
Critics contend that Mr. Obama laid out a welcome mat for illegal immigrants, especially minors, by discouraging deportations. Government interviews with the young border crossers confirm that many believe that once they arrive in the U.S., they'll be allowed to stay.
At least 90,000 children, mostly from Guatamala, Honduras and El Salvador, will be caught this year, and more than 140,000 will be apprehended in 2015, according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection memo.
Until recently, just about 8,000 unaccompanied children per year attempted to cross the border.
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