Obama to Central American Presidents: US Has ‘Great Compassion’ But ‘We Have to Deter a Continuing Influx of Children’

Jul 25, 2014
5:02 PM

According to the White House pool report we received this afternoon about the meeting President Obama had with the leaders of the three Central American countries most impacted by the latest immigration crisis, this is what the President told Guatemala’s Otto Pérez Molina, Honduras’ Juan Orlando Hernández and El Salvador’s Salvador Sánchez Cerén:


“Children who do not have proper claims…will at some point be subject to repatriation to their home countries,” Obama said.

He said they agree on need to address poverty and violence in Central America.

“I emphasized that the American people and my administration have great compassion for these children…but I also emphasized to my friends that we have to deter a continuing influx of children putting themselves at risk.”

These quote was shared by Todd Gillman of the The Dallas Morning News. Gillman was the pool reporter for today’s White House meeting.

Gillman later shared this report:

President Obama ended his remarks after about 14 minutes but then, after standing and shaking hands with the three visiting presidents, and as the pool was being told to depart, he agreed to take a shouted question about the refugee policy trial balloon. (Bill Plante and someone else tossed similar questions.)

Obama said he wasn’t going to take questions, but “some of the stories were a little over cranked. As I explained to my fellow presidents, under US law, we admit a certain number of refugees from all around the world based on some fairly narrow criteria. Typically refugee status is not granted just on economic need or because a family lives in a bad neighborhood or poverty. It’s typically defined fairly narrowly.” For instance, he said, if a political activist is being persecuted.

“There may be some narrow circumstances in which there is humanitarian or refugee status that a family might be eligible for. If that were the case it would be better for them to apply in-country rather than take a very dangerous journey up to Texas to make those same claims. But I think it’s important to recognize that that would not necessarily accommodate a large number of additional migrants.”

More important, he said, is to find solutions “that prevent smugglers from making money on families that feel desperate,” and that make a dent in poverty in Central America, and that improve the US legal immigration system in a way that “makes this underground migration system less necessary.”

The other presidents had no speaking role with pool present. Obama brushed off a follow-up from Jeff Mason about funding and the pool was escorted out.

Another pool report from CCTV America’s Jessica Stone shared the following:

The leaders started at roughly 2:15
Pool ushered into the Cabinet room at 3:40

Obama stayed seated as he spoke:

“All of us have responsibility,” he said about the thousands of children crossing the border.

He said he had shared US efforts to increase due process for these children but in a way that expedites the process to get a fair hearing.

He emphasized to all presidents that the American people have great compassion and want to make sure they are cared for but that “we have to contain an influx of children putting themselves and their families in an unsafe position.”

He said it’s not because of a lack compassion but “we are not only a country of immigrants. We are a nation of laws.”

Molina nodded to that after translation.

Obama thanked the presidents for discouraging kids from travel for aggressive street of smuggling.

He noted that initial reports show joint efforts are working.

Because the numbers crossing this month had dropped by half since June.

He called on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. He said, “My hope is that Speaker Boehner won’t leave town….without doing something to solve this problem.”

A question to Obama on a proposal for asylum centers in Central American countries.

“Under US law, we admit a certain numbers of refugees from around the world on certain criteria….Not usually because of poverty…..”

It’s defined narrowly he said. (i.e. The state targeting an activist.)

“There may be some narrow circumstances in which there is humanitarian reason to allow them status. If that’s the case better to apply in country. That would not accommodate a large number of migrants. What’s more important is to find solutions prevent smugglers from making money that ensure greater security in Central America. ”

There was also a Spanish-language pool report from María Peña of La Opinión. Here is part of that report:

Tres puntos principales de la reunión fueron garantizar una repatriación ordenada y segura de los niños indocumentados centroamericanos; frenar el continuo flujo de niños migrantes desde la región, y elaborar un “plan de acción agresivo” con medidas a mediano y largo plazo para combatir a los traficantes de personas, la violencia, y crear oportunidades económicas.

Al señalar que esta lucha es una “responsabilidad compartida”, Obama compartió con los mandatarios los esfuerzos de EEUU para poner más recursos en la frontera; ampliar las instalaciones para el cuidado de los niños; más recursos para procesarlos de forma ordenada y segura y protegiendo su derecho al debido proceso.
Obama dijo que EEUU tiene “gran compasión” por los niños y que ha habido un desbordamiento de generosidad con ellos en todo el país, en un esfuerzo en el que participan iglesias, organizaciones no gubernamentales, y personas de a pie.

Obama destacó la urgencia de frenar la emigración ilegal no porque EEUU no tenga compasión sino porque también es “un país de leyes”.

El mandatario tomó solo una pregunta sobre la idea de crear un programa piloto para que los hondureños puedan solicitar visas de refugiados en su país, evitando la peligrosa travesía hacia EEUU.

Se mostró abierto a esa y otras ideas, aunque advirtió de que las leyes de EEUU establecen requisitos muy estrictos para personas que buscan refugio y que los casos no se aprueban meramente “en base a necesidad económica o porque una familia vive en un mal barrio”.

En todo caso, EEUU “no podría necesariamente acomodar a un gran número” de refugiados, dijo.

Obama reiteró durante sus declaraciones su compromiso de seguir trabajando con los países centroamericanos para crear oportunidades económicas, su interés de que EEUU tenga eventualmente una reforma migratoria.

También instó al presidente de la Cámara de Representantes, el republicano John Boehner y a su bancada a que apruebe los fondos que solicitó para atajar la crisis en la frontera.

Su deseo es que los republicanos no se vayan de Washington por el receso legislativo de agosto sin hacer algo por resolver el problema.
“Necesitamos acción y menos palabras”, enfatizó.

Later the White House released this bilingual joint statement:

Joint Statement by the Presidents of the United States, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador

The Presidents of the United States, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador issued the following statement at the conclusion of their meeting at the White House on July 25, 2014:

We met today to discuss our ongoing collaboration regarding the increased numbers of unaccompanied minors and adults with children migrating to the United States. We expressed our shared belief in the need for a humanitarian response to the situation, with a focus on the safety and well-being of children and families. We reiterated our commitment to prevent families and children from undertaking this dangerous journey and to work together to promote safe, legal, and orderly migration. We pledged to continue to pursue the criminal networks that are exploiting this uniquely vulnerable population and we agreed on the need to discourage the use of smuggling networks that place individuals at high risk of violent crime and sexual abuse along the journey. We reviewed and agreed to redouble our joint efforts to counter misinformation about U.S. immigration policy. We committed to work together on the ongoing efforts to humanely repatriate migrants, consistent with due process.

We expressed our commitment to work together in a spirit of shared responsibility to address the underlying causes of migration by reducing criminal activity and promoting greater social and economic opportunity. The Presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras welcomed President Obama’s request for additional foreign assistance as part of the supplemental request to Congress to support the U.S. response to the increased migration. The Central American presidents indicated to President Obama that they are working on a comprehensive plan to address the underlying causes of the humanitarian situation on the border. We all agreed that an effective solution requires a comprehensive and joint effort on the part of the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, the United States, as well as other countries in Central America, and Mexico and Colombia. We directed our teams to begin coordinating such a plan, in collaboration with other international partners. Our objective is to create the conditions that will allow the citizens of Central America to live in safe communities with access to education, jobs, and opportunities for social and economic advancement.

Declaración conjunta de los presidentes de Estados Unidos, Guatemala, Honduras y El Salvador

Los presidentes de Estados Unidos, Guatemala, Honduras y El Salvador emitieron la siguiente declaración al finalizar su reunión en la Casa Blanca el 25 de julio del 2014:

Nos reunimos hoy para discutir nuestra colaboración continua con respecto al incremento de números de menores no acompañados y adultos con niños que migran a los Estados Unidos. Expresamos nuestra creencia compartida sobre la necesidad de una respuesta humanitaria a la situación, con un enfoque en la seguridad y bienestar de los niños y las familias. Reiteramos nuestro compromiso para prevenir que las familias y niños realicen este viaje peligroso y para trabajar juntos para promover una migración segura, legal y ordenada. Nos comprometimos a continuar persiguiendo a las redes criminales que explotan a esta población que es especialmente vulnerable y acordamos sobre la necesidad de desalentar el uso de redes de contrabando que colocan a los individuos en un alto riesgo de crímenes violentos y abusos sexuales a lo largo del viaje. Revisamos y acordamos redoblar nuestros esfuerzos conjuntos para contrarrestar la información errónea sobre la política de inmigración de los EE. UU. Nos comprometimos a trabajar juntos en los esfuerzos continuos para repatriar humanitariamente a los migrantes, de acuerdo con el proceso debido.

Expresamos nuestro compromiso para trabajar juntos con un espíritu de responsabilidad compartida para resolver las causas subyacentes de la migración al reducir la actividad criminal y promover una mayor oportunidad social y económica. Los presidentes de El Salvador, Guatemala y Honduras le dieron la bienvenida a la solicitud de asistencia extranjera adicional del Presidente Obama, como parte de la solicitud complementaria enviada al congreso para apoyar la respuesta de los EE. UU. al incremento de migración. Los presidentes de Centroamérica le indicaron al Presidente Obama que están trabajando en un plan integral para abordar las causas subyacentes de la situación humanitaria en la frontera. Todos nosotros acordamos que una solución eficaz requiere un esfuerzo integral conjunto de partes de los gobiernos de El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, y de Estados Unidos, al igual que otros países en Centroamérica y de México y Colombia. Le instruimos a nuestros equipos que comiencen a coordinar dicho plan, en colaboración con otros socios internacionales. Nuestro objetivo es crear las condiciones que permitirán que los ciudadanos de Centroamérica a que vivan en comunidades seguras con acceso a la educación, trabajos y oportunidades para un progreso social y económico.