According to a front page report in today's Washington Post, White House aides were warned about an impending crisis over unaccompanied minors crossing the United States' southern border with Mexico.
The report indicates that university researchers, local officials, and agencies like Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were "ringing alarm bells" over the past few years as the problem worsened.
One of the most publicized of these warnings came from Texas Governor Rick Perry, who in 2012 "wrote a blistering letter" to President Barack Obama, according to the Post. The letter criticized the Obama administration for "perpetuating the problem" by its inaction.
"Every day of delay risks more lives," Perry said at the time. "Every child allowed to remain encourages hundreds more to attempt the journey."
But the administration considered the problem a "local" one. The Post article quotes a former Border Patrol station chief who led the research group from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), Victor Manjarrez, Jr., as saying that a larger problem was "not on anyone's radar," despite the fact that "it was pretty clear this number of kids was going to be the new baseline."
The UTEP report was delivered to the Department of Homeland Security earlier this year, and "observed three emerging trends" influencing the government's handling of the unaccompanied minor situation:
"(1) Inadequate inter-agency communication, which encompasses both a failure to communicate important information and limited or outdated resources/methods to provide real-time communication; (2) an increase in transportation requirements, which severely limits the ability of CBP and ICE ERO [Enforcement and Removal Operations] to maintain other critical missions and; (3) a lack of understanding with regard to both the entirety of the system process and each other's challenges and requirements."
But Obama's domestic policy advisor, Cecilia Muñoz, told the Post that the current crisis is "off-the-charts different."
"It was not the same pattern," she said. "We assumed a significant increase, but this was not the same kind of trend line."
The administration has come under heavy criticism from many Republicans for what they see as a lax approach to border security. In the case of the current crisis, many have pinned the blame on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which offered a temporary reprieve from the threat of deportation for some young immigrants. But, as Vox points out in its explainer on the topic, "immigrants who arrive now aren't eligible for DACA" and "the influx of unaccompanied children started in the fall of 2011," almost a year before DACA was instituted.
But fellow Democrats have also criticized the president for his handling of the crisis, putting the White House in an awkward position: Obama has requested funds for a hawkish policy opposed by his own party while Republicans, ostensibly supportive of a harder line, oppose the funding request. This, in turn, has led to competing bills in Congress and little consensus, as we reported last week.
For congressional Democrats, the administration's handling of the border situation has opened a divisive debate that they consider unnecessary during an election year. Rather than changing a 2008 law intended to prevent child trafficking, now a flashpoint in the debate over the current migrant influx, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) says that policymakers need to focus on the humanitarian aspects of the crisis.
"As I said before, these children that are coming up -- first, make sure they're safe," Harkin told Politico. "Second, make sure they are fed and clothed. Third, make sure they are housed. Fourth, make every reasonable opportunity for them to apply for asylum. That's what the 2008 law provides."
The Economist tackled the politics of the border crisis in an analysis this week that said Obama's failure to "take a clear moral lead" is mainly due to the fact that "he is stuck between a Democratic base that hates talk of hustling kids back to vile lives, and a wider public that does not see a problem that it is America's job to fix."
That helps explain the difficult political situation that is largely to blame for the stalemate that has locked up immigration policy-making. In poll numbers released last week by the Pew Research Center, only 28 percent of respondents approved of Obama's handling of the border crisis. Meanwhile, in a Washington Post-ABC News poll also released last week, 58 percent and 66 percent disapproved of how Obama and congressional Republicans, respectively, have handled it.