By Joe Guzzardi
July 31, 2015
For years, critics have insisted that regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats control Congress, neither party can effectively implement functional immigration policies. The borders remain open, visas programs fraud-ridden, sanctuary cities still tolerated, and legal immigration levels of about one million a year remain unsustainable.
This week the Washington Times revealed that the federal government’s inefficiency may have hit an all-time low. In response to last summer’s Central American border surge, the U.S. invested millions more in aid to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, the major sending countries. During 2014, 70,000 children travelling alone and 60, 000 children with parents surged the border, and set off a furious debate about how to discourage future similar unlawful entry.
Naively, the administration concluded that the additional economic investment would eventually encourage young people to pursue opportunities in their home countries. But a scathing Government Accountability Office report found that the Obama administration bungled virtually every aspect of its approach to the Central American crisis.
First, the GAO laid the blame for the surge on Obama’s deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) which, the agency said, encouraged thousands to migrate with the hope that they too would qualify for temporary legal status.
Second, the Department of Homeland Security launched a costly but failed public relations campaign to discourage more crossings. Illegal immigration from Central American continues in 2015 but has received less media attention. Ironically, Mexico has done a more efficient job of blocking alien entry than the U.S. Between October and April, Mexico apprehended 92,889 Central Americans while last year during the same period the U.S. detained 70,266 so called “other than Mexicans.”
Third, the administration failed to make clear DACA’s terms to Central American leaders. Hondurans, for example, thought that pregnant women and young mothers would be given amnesty once they reached the U.S. In the end, most were indeed allowed to stay. But a more powerful message sent earlier might have discouraged instead of enticed illegal immigration.
Fourth, a huge investment in classroom computers for students in El Salvador was wasted. The Salvadoran government didn’t hire teachers.
Although administration officials claimed that poor economies and threats posed by drug cartels spurred Central American migration, the GAO indicates that Obama’s lenient immigration policies were responsible. The GAO spoke with State Department officials in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who admitted that they couldn’t point to specific evidence that U.S. investment in those countries yielded positive results.
Despite what appears to be a near total failure, the State Department insists that more funding is the solution to establishing self-sufficient governments and deterring Central American illegal immigration.
Meanwhile, last summer’s arrivals have dispersed throughout the nation, and most have become local communities’ responsibility. School systems struggle to cope. Robin Hamby, a family partnership specialist who works at the Fairfax (VA) County Public School System, said that in addition to language and cultural challenges, most of the children have gaps in their education, having stopped going to school in their home country. Fairfax County has the largest number of recently-arrived Central Americans and its students speak 160 languages. For cash-strapped districts like Fairfax, providing for students’ needs is costly and emotionally draining.
The GAO report notwithstanding, Obama has given no indication that he’ll reconsider his latest Central American outreach. Under a little-known program, Central American parents living legally in the U.S. can, assuming certain conditions are met, petition for their children under age 21 to join them. If accepted, they’ll be granted refugee status, work permits, and flown to the U.S. at taxpayer expense.
Americans want common sense immigration, a goal that’s been out of reach since Obama took office.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. Contact him at [email protected]