White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest stated on Monday that the Obama Administration is "committed" to "enforcing the law" and that most of the unaccompanied Central American minors illegally flooding into the U.S. will be deported.
"Most of these kids," said Earnest, do "not have a legal basis for remaining in this country" and "will be returned" to their homelands.
Earnest's statement led to series of major media headlines, such as "White House Says 'Most' Children At The Border Will Be Sent Home" (Associated Press); "White House: Most will be sent home" ("The Hill"); and "White House: ‘Most’ unaccompanied minors at border will likely be deported" ("The Washington Post").
That claim, however, is at odds with data recently provided by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official at a Congressional hearing.
New White House press secretary Josh Earnest speaks to the media in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
While testifying before the House Judiciary Committee on June 25, Tom Homan, ICE's Executive Associate Director for Enforcement and Removal Operations, stated that 87 percent of the unaccompanied Central American minors who have been apprehended illegally entering the U.S. over the last five years have not yet been ordered to leave.
ABC News was one of the few major media outlets to report this 87 percent figure, but ABC quoted Homan out of context, thus giving the impression that the figure only applied to those who entered in the past year. Complete footage of the hearing shows that it applies to all who entered "in the last five years," which dates back to mid-2009, or a few months after President Barack Obama took office.
The relevant excerpt and context from Homan's testimony are shown in the video below. (For reference, an "NTA" is a notice to appear in immigration court.)
The White House is saying that this "influx of illegal migration from Central America" is an "urgent humanitarian situation" but that Obama cannot effectively address it because of a law signed by George W. Bush.
The law, enacted in 2008 to combat human trafficking, requires special treatment for "unaccompanied alien children" from nations that don't directly border the U.S., such as El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
The law states that when such children are "apprehended at the border" or a "port of entry," they must be "promptly placed in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child," "provided access to counsel," and "placed in removal proceedings."
This means that they cannot be returned to their homeland without a court order. The Obama administration is placing about 85 percent of these minors with relatives in the U.S.
In contrast, under this same law, unaccompanied minors from countries that border the U.S., such as Mexico, can be returned to their "country of nationality" without a court order, largely at the discretion of ICE. ICE is part of the Department of Homeland Security, which is under the authority of the president.
Boys await medical appointments in a holding area where hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are being processed and held at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center on Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in Nogales, Ariz. CPB provided media tours Wednesday of two locations in Brownsville, Texas, and Nogales, that have been central to processing the more than 47,000 unaccompanied children who have entered the country illegally since Oct. 1. (AP/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
In keeping with the message the president wants to speed deportations, the White House is calling on Congress to give Obama "greater authority" to "more efficiently and effectively remove and repatriate immigrants to this country that don't have a legal basis for remaining here."
However, the Associated Press reported less than three weeks ago that the "Obama administration has released into the U.S. an untold number of immigrant families caught traveling illegally from Central America in recent months."
Unlike unaccompanied minors, the law does not require that these apprehended illegal immigrants be released into the U.S. Yet, the Associated Press estimated that the Obama Administration may have released more than 40,000 of them since October, and "although the government knows how many it's released, it won't say publicly."
Likewise, as far back as 2010, the union representing 7,000 officers and employees of the ICE Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations unanimously passed a "Vote of No Confidence" in the Obama Administration's ICE leaders. The resolution stated that they "have abandoned the Agency's core mission of enforcing United States Immigration Laws and providing for public safety" and:
The majority of ICE ERO [Enforcement and Removal Operations] Officers are prohibited from making street arrests or enforcing United States immigration laws outside of the institutional (jail) setting. This has effectively created "amnesty through policy" for anyone illegally in the United States who has not been arrested by another agency for a criminal violation.
Similarly, in 2013, Chris Crane, the president of this union, wrote a letter to Congress stating that "ICE officers are being ordered by" Obama administration "political appointees to ignore the law."
He also wrote that ICE officers have been disciplined "for engaging in routine law enforcement actions" and are being "barred from enforcing large sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act, even when public safety is at risk."
James D. Agresti is the president of Just Facts, a think tank dedicated to researching and publishing verifiable facts about the leading public policy issues of our time.
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