Skip to main content

Central American leaders to Obama: We're working on it

By Jeremy Diamond, CNN
updated 2:29 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
President Obama meets with Central American leaders
President Obama meets with Central American leaders
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Central American leaders meet with Obama on youth migrant surge
  • NEW: They say they're working on a plan to address underlying cause of migration
  • The Obama administration is buoyed by slight slowing of migrant kids at the border
  • Congress working on scaled-back plan, but House and Senate divided on approach

Washington (CNN) -- Central American leaders signaled to President Barack Obama they're working on a "comprehensive plan" to address the underlying reasons for the surge of immigrant youth from their countries who are entering the United States illegally.

The presidents of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala met with Obama at the White House on Friday as Washington struggles to find a solution to what many consider a humanitarian crisis.

The influx this year of tens of thousands of child immigrants, many unaccompanied, has become a partisan flashpoint on the already divisive issue of reforming a U.S. immigration system that all sides agree is broken.

Obama and Presidents Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala, Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras, and Salvador Sanchez Ceren of El Salvador issued a statement that reiterated "our commitment to prevent families and children from undertaking this dangerous journey and to work together to promote safe, legal, and orderly migration."

'Border is not open to Central Americans'
Jeb Bush joins immigration debate
Immigration protestors gather in Kansas
Humanitarian crisis ... in America?
Breaking through the immigration rhetoric
Father and son reunite after 12 years

They "all agreed that an effective solution requires a comprehensive and joint effort" from those countries, other nations in the region and the United States, they said.

Specifically, the Central American presidents "indicated" to Obama that they were working on a plan to address the root causes of why people are leaving their countries.

Underlying causes

Part of that, all at the meeting agreed, must address strategies for reducing crime and promoting greater social and economic opportunity.

Priorities include pursuing criminal enterprises "that are exploiting this uniquely vulnerable population" and the need to discourage use of "smuggling networks" that place immigrants at "high risk of violent crime and sexual abuse."

Obama and the others also pledged to redouble efforts to counter misinformation about U.S. deportation policy around young immigrants that some say is fueling the surge, and promised to further efforts to "humanely repatriate migrants, consistent with due process."

Most can't stay

Obama told the Central American leaders that most of the child migrants crossing the border illegally now won't be permitted to stay. Some have been deported already, while most are being allowed to stay temporarily while their immigration status is sorted out.

Also being discussed within the Obama administration has been a pilot program that would let the United States assess asylum claims in those countries in order to reduce the number of illegal immigrants. But Obama sought to play down that option as an answer.

"There may be some narrow circumstances in which there is humanitarian or refugee status that a family might be eligible for. If that's the case it would be better for them to apply in country rather than take a very dangerous journey all the way up to Texas to make those same claims," Obama said.

But he added that potential applicants would still have to meet the same criteria to qualify.

"Under U.S. law, we admit a certain number of refugees from all over the world based on some fairly narrow criteria and typically refugee status is not just based on economic need or because a family lives in a bad neighborhood or in poverty it's typically defined fairly narrowly," he said.

The White House previously called the idea premature. But spokesman Josh Earnest said before Friday's meeting that it could be extended to other countries, if successful.

Struggling for a solution

The administration and Congress have struggled in recent weeks to come to a consensus on how to address the surge that has overwhelmed border and immigration services.

Obama has asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funds for border efforts, while Republicans and some Democrats in Congress are resisting that proposal, and offering alternatives that would spend less and change immigration policy to deport kids faster.

Either way, Obama and others are concerned that lawmakers will leave at the end of next week for their August recess without approving a fix.

House Republicans are expected to vote on a scaled-down border bill next week. It would provide less than $1 billion to address the crisis and would modify a 2008 law to make it easier to deport children from Central America who enter the United States illegally.

Currently, kids who enter the country illegally from Central America can stay until they receive an immigration hearing. That process can take months or years.

The proposal to alter that law all but ensures the bill will not come to a vote in the Senate, where Democrats are opposed to tagging that change to a funding bill of its own for the border crisis.

Democrats worry that accelerating the process will result in many falling through the cracks and being sent back to situations characterized by many as violent situations in their countries.

Guard troops to border

The administration also is considering sending National Guard troops to the border, according to a White House official, just days after Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he would do just that in the Rio Grande Valley area.

Immigrants or refugees?

The Pentagon and the Department of Health and Human Services sent a team this week to assess Border Patrol efforts in the Rio Grande Valley. The number of unaccompanied minors seeping through that area has slowed dramatically since last month.

Key questions about Rick Perry's border plan

CNN's Dana Bash, Jim Acosta, Halimah Abdullah, Kevin Liptak and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:27 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
When George W. Bush couldn't get an immigration overhaul though the Senate, he gave up. When Barack Obama couldn't get a bill through the House, he changed the rules.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
President Obama is ordering the most sweeping overhaul of the immigration system in decades.
updated 1:12 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Read a transcript of President Obama's speech on immigration, as prepared for delivery.
updated 5:59 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Opponents of the President's plan focused their criticism on the legal case, saying Obama has overstepped the boundaries of his authority.
Here are 5 myths about undocumented immigrants, and why they're wrong.
updated 5:28 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Here's a look at what you need to know about immigration in the U.S.
updated 12:11 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
Explore the journey out of the shadows led by undocumented immigrant and filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas in CNN Films' "Documented."
updated 5:23 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
It's coming next week. Or next month. It'll protect 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. Or 3 million. Or less.
For immigrant children, their time in the U.S. all depends on luck and chance -- something immigration opponents see as problematic.
updated 3:02 PM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
A new survey about preferences and trends in Mexico concludes that one out of every three Mexicans would migrate to the United States if given the opportunity.
A 14-year-old and his mother go on a dangerous and illegal journey. They made it to America. But what happens next?
updated 5:20 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
Photographers capture all sides of the story as the crisis on the border continues.
updated 8:44 AM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
John King, Manu Raju and Molly Ball discuss the Maryland governor's mixed message on housing undocumented migrants.
updated 9:06 AM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
The Central Americans crossing the U.S. border in massive waves have been described as immigrants or refugees.
updated 5:42 PM EDT, Thu June 19, 2014
An explainer on how thousands of children are creating a crisis in America.
updated 9:39 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to get beyond the question of who's to blame for the crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border.
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Sat June 28, 2014
David Martinez grew up thinking he was just an average American kid. Turns out, he was wrong.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
CNN's Rosa Flores shares her family's immigration story.
updated 12:17 PM EDT, Sat June 21, 2014
Dozens of mothers and children file through a Tucson bus station daily. Everything is up in the air. The only thing they know for sure is where they're going next.
ADVERTISEMENT