White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Monday that the situation at the overwhelmed Texas-Mexico border is improving, and he attributed it partly to the administration’s response:
“You know, we have seen a reduction, at least for now, in the flow of individuals from these Central American countries to the border. We’ve seen a stepped-up campaign from Customs and Border Patrol in Spanish-language media, in Central America, to try to make it clear why parents should not put their kids on this dangerous journey.”
Earnest said the reasons for the reduced numbers of unaccompanied children and adults traveling with children “cannot be attributed to any one factor.”
But, he added, “We do believe that the administration’s response and efforts to work with Central American leaders to publicize the dangers of the journey and reinforce that apprehended migrants are ultimately returned to their home countries in keeping with the law, as well as seasonal flows, have all played a part.”
(Summer heat makes the journey particularly dangerous at this time of year.)
Earnest noted that in June, Customs and Border Patrol apprehended an average of 355 unaccompanied children per day in the Rio Grande Valley.
But preliminary data for the first two weeks of July shows that apprehensions “have dropped to an average of around 150 unaccompanied children per day in the Rio Grande Valley. And some of those days have been as low as around 110 to 115 children per day.”
Following three days of fund-raising on the West Coast, President Obama plans to meet on Friday with Central American leaders — “because it demonstrates continued engagement in solving this problem,” Earnest announced.
Among other things, he will discuss ways to address “some of the root causes” of the illegal migration, including pervasive violence and gang activity.
“So having a meeting with the president of the United States, and having the president inform the leaders of those countries that the United States is committed to putting in place these programs that would address these challenges and work with them cooperatively to implement these programs, I think, is an important statement,” Earnest said.
“And I think it demonstrates the willingness of this administration to try to resolve this problem.”
‘Going to remain engaged’
Earnest said Obama administration has been closely following the border situation and will continue to demonstrate a “sustained engagement” on the issue:
“This is the kind of situation that we were closely following before it was so prominently covered in the media. I — and I anticipate that we’re going to remain engaged in addressing this problem even when there are other things that are grabbing headlines.”
During Monday’s briefing, Earnest was asked about a July 19 Washington Post report that said the Obama administration was warned of the looming border crisis nearly a year before Obama declared it to be a humanitarian crisis.
“The administration did too little to heed those warnings, according to interviews with former government officials, outside experts and immigrant advocates, leading to an inadequate response that contributed to this summer’s escalating crisis,” the Post reported.
Earnest complained that the story was “based entirely on anonymous sources,” although some sources were quoted by name.
He also defended the administration’s response: “[N]ot just in the last couple of months, but over the last few years, you’ve seen that this administration has repeatedly sought additional resources to deal with this specific problem at the border, that if you look at the trajectory of the budget from Fiscal Year 2011 to 2012 to 2013 to 2014, that there’s been a steady increase in the amount of resources requested to deal with this precise problem.
“That is a pretty good indication that this is something that we’ve been watching carefully and preparing for,” he said.
Earnest mentioned all the administration officials — excluding President Obama — who have been to the border before it became a “media sensation.”
“So this is something that the administration has been focused on for quite some time. And you know, we have seen, as I mentioned at the top of the briefing, the tide at least start to turn over the last couple of weeks.
“But we’re not going to turn our attention away from that. In fact, the president’s having a meeting on this today because he believes that this is the kind of significant problem that merits sustained attention.”
President Obama met with his Homeland Security Council on Monday to discuss the border crisis.