Report: White House Ignored 'Alarm Bells' About Border Crisis

Monday, 21 Jul 2014 11:18 PM

By Cathy Burke

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The Obama administration two years ago reportedly ignored the "ringing alarm bells" of a potential crisis of unaccompanied children pouring across the the U.S.-Mexico border, fearing the political fallout in an election year.

"There were warning signs, operational folks raising red flags to high levels in terms of this being a potential issue," a former senior federal law enforcement official told The Washington Post.

Special: Caught on the Border - See the Video

The official told the newspaper that Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement were "ringing alarm bells" within the administration.

Yet the White House was focused then on twin political battles: President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign and the congressional push for a broad immigration overhaul. Both would have been made much more difficult amid a border crisis, the newspaper reported.

"I don't think they ignored this on purpose, but they didn't know what to do," migrant rights specialist Michelle Brané of the Women's Refugee Commission told The Post. The group published a report in 2012 highlighting the migration of children.

"For whatever reason, there was hesi­ta­tion to address the root causes. I think the administration was dealing with it at a minimal scale, putting a Band-Aid on something they should have been thinking about holistically," Brane said.

California Democratic Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard told The Post that lawmakers understood how serious the situation was, but feared the political fallout.

"That was always a concern of mine: how to address the issue in a way that did not detract from the need for comprehensive immigration reform," she told the newspaper.

The Post quoted another unnamed source as saying the Obama administration was focusing on broad reform rather than an immediate fix.

"Was the White House told there were huge flows of Central Americans coming? Of course they were told. A lot of times," this source told the newspaper. "Was there a general lack of interest and a focus on the legislation? Yes, that's where the focus was."

A University of Texas at El Paso report in 2013 detailed how 30 agents were already assigned to perform tasks like washing the immigrant children's clothes, driving them to offsite showers, and making them sandwiches.

The report said that an average of 66 children were taken into custody each day and more than 24,000 cycled through patrol stations in Texas in 2013.

Yet study leader Victor Manjarrez Jr., a former Border Patrol agent, told The Post the government had little reaction to the report's warning and viewed the situation as a "local problem."

Manjarrez said a crisis on the scale of what's now developed along the border since last October was "not on anyone's radar [even though] it was pretty clear this number of kids was going to be the new baseline."

Cecilia Muñoz, Obama's domestic policy adviser, said the administration and key agencies had made adjustments over time to deal with the influx of children but then responded with urgency once federal officials realized last May the numbers would far exceed internal projections of 60,000 minors crossing the border in 2014, The Post reported.

Border Patrol estimates now say the number could reach 90,000 by the end of September, The Post noted.

Obama has ordered an emergency response overseen by the National Security Council and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and earlier this month asked Congress to approve $3.7 billion in emergency funds.

But back in April 2012, Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry was already urging Obama "to take immediate action" and return unaccompanied minors to their home countries.

In an open letter to Obama, Perry warned that "every child allowed to remain encourages hundreds more to attempt the journey."

On Capitol Hill, as lawmakers began hearing reports of the growing crisis from organizations and churches with operations in Central America, some Democrats worried it would help Republicans make a case that the administration's policies had failed, Roybal-Allard told the newspaper.

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