- The Washington Times - Monday, June 16, 2014

President Obama has dispatched Vice President Joseph R. Biden to Central America this week to plead with parents to stop sending their children illegally to the U.S., but critics say the president himself should take a stronger stand to stem the surge of child immigrants streaming over the Mexican border.

With tens of thousands of unaccompanied children flooding the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months, Mr. Biden is adding a stop in Guatemala Friday during a long-planned trip to Latin America. He will meet with leaders of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala and is expected to warn parents publicly that their children “are not eligible” to stay in the U.S., a Biden aide said.

Some specialists say what is really needed to slow the influx of young illegal immigrants to the U.S. is for Mr. Obama himself to warn away the children, and to take meaningful enforcement actions. His critics say the president is reluctant to take a higher profile on the issue for fear of alienating Hispanic voters in a midterm election year.

“He needs to let Americans and individuals all over the world know that the United States of America is going to enforce the laws,” said Julie Kirchner, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which opposes easing the nation’s immigration laws. “If he wants to placate a particular segment of his base by keeping quiet and sending emissaries around the world to ask people not to send their kids to the United States illegally, that’s his choice. But clearly it’s one that’s driven by politics and not policy.”

As if to underscore the administration’s mixed message on young immigrants, the White House on Tuesday will honor 10 young “champions of change” who came to the U.S. illegally and have benefited from Mr. Obama’s deferred deportation program to become “exemplary” leaders in communities from Clifton, New Jersey, to Santa Monica, California.

“This event will showcase these inspirational young leaders and highlight the importance of providing talented young people with the opportunity to realize their full potential,” the White House said. Journalists are barred from attending the event.

SEE ALSO: Fighting back: Residents force feds to scrap plan to house illegals at Va. college

With debate raging over the sudden influx of young illegal immigrants, Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain, Arizona Republicans, urged Mr. Obama in a letter last week to take a more visible role in the crisis.

“Few in the world are listened to as closely as the president of the United States,” they wrote. “While resisting the temptation to take further unilateral action on immigration enforcement, the present situation begs your best efforts to make clear that there are consequences for illegally entering the U.S.”

The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether Mr. Obama intends to speak out publicly against the surge of young illegal immigrants. The president has called it an “urgent humanitarian situation.”

White House deputy press secretary Joshua Earnest said Mr. Biden on his trip will discuss “steps these countries can take to ensure the safety of their children and to dissuade parents from entrusting them into the hands of strangers to try to deliver them to the United States.”

“We’d like to shut that off as quickly as we can,” he said.

Biden’s mission

Administration officials also said Mr. Biden will emphasize that children coming to the U.S. now are not eligible for deferred action on deportation, or for citizenship as provided in the Senate-passed legislation that Mr. Obama is advocating.

“The bottom line is that it’s not worth subjecting children to a perilous journey when, at the end of the day, there is no light at the end of the tunnel,” a Biden aide said.

Critics say the administration has encouraged the tide of illegal immigration through policies such as the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, signed by Mr. Obama in 2012 to grant relief from deportation proceedings for illegal child immigrants who pursue education or join the U.S. military, and lax border enforcement.

Compared with 2011, the year before Mr. Obama’s DACA policy took effect, the number of children coming north to the U.S. has increased more than tenfold this year. Administration officials blame poverty and crime in a few Central American nations and say there is a “misperception” that Mr. Obama’s policies are to blame.

The Los Angeles Times, citing Guatemalan consular officials and parents who are immigrating to the U.S. illegally, reported last week that the immigrants are “drawn by reports circulating throughout Central America that parents with children are allowed to stay in the United States indefinitely.”

The Washington Times reported last week that an internal Border Patrol intelligence memo said illegal immigrants from Central America are surging across the U.S.-Mexico border because they believe they can take advantage of American immigration policy and gain at least a tentative foothold in the country. The immigrants come seeking “permisos,” which apparently are the “notices to appear” — the legal documents given to non-Mexicans caught at the border, according to the memo.

Those notices officially put the immigrants into deportation proceedings. The immigrants usually are released to await a court date, often giving them the opportunity to remain in the country illegally.

Ms. Kirchner said it’s disingenuous of the administration to blame the latest immigration surge on poverty and violence in Central America.

“There’s been poverty and violence in Central America for years, but there’s been no corresponding surge of illegal alien minors flooding the border,” she said. “They’re coming across the border because they think they’ll be allowed to stay. An understanding of the president’s policies is being explained by word-of-mouth.”

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