Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday said thousands of children are trying to cross the southern U.S. border because of the “false information” that the U.S. will let these children stay in the country.
“There are rules of law and there is a process and there is false information that is being spread about benefits that might be available to these young people who are looking for that better life,” Kerry said in Panama City. “And so we need to work together, to communicate to our people, to try to apply the law, and most importantly, to work with each of these countries to address the fundamental underlying causes of this particular challenge.”
For the last few weeks, the Obama administration has said human traffickers have stirred rumors in Central America that children can stay in the U.S. once they cross the border. Those rumors, officials say, is a significant cause in the flood of tens of thousands of kids across the border.
Last month, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said smugglers are saying children will get a “permisos” to stay in the U.S., which is a lie being told to get people to pay these smugglers to move their children across the border.
As a result, the Obama administration has sought to improve its communications with El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, to deliver the message that the only thing awaiting their kids in the U.S. is a deportation hearing.
Kerry met this week with the presidents of El Salvador and Guatemala and the Honduran foreign minister.
“The lives of children cannot be put at risk this way, and we all have a responsibility as leaders to do our part in order to solve this problem,” Kerry said in Panama City. “And we will.”
On Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visited the southern U.S. border, and Wednesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske will visit Mission, Texas to assess border efforts.
An estimated 52,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the border this year, which has forced the Obama administration to beef up border security. This week, DHS said it would move 150 border patrol agents to the Rio Grande Valley to bolster security and immigrant processing efforts there.
Republicans have said throughout the crisis that the Obama administration itself created the emergency, by continuing to call for immigration reform that gives illegal immigrants a pathway to legal status. The GOP says those calls are acting as a magnet to families throughout Central America, and have quickly led to a dangerous situation for children being sent across.
Despite the administration’s attempt to communicate clearly that these children will be deported, Republicans argue that the message is still not being sent clearly enough. Kerry’s statement talked about the “rules of law,” but did not say children would be “deported.”
The issue is likely to come to a head later this month, as the Obama administration is expected to ask for a $2 billion supplemental spending bill to deal with the crisis. That request is likely to be tweaked by House Republicans seeking to insert their own solutions to the problem.