WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama urged the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to do everything they can to stem the flow of migrant children toward the United States when he met with them Friday at the White House.
The president called the meeting with Presidents Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras, Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala and Salvador Sánchez Cerén of El Salvador to emphasize the importance of striking at the root causes of what he has called a humanitarian crisis on the border between Mexico and the United States. Mr. Obama pressed them to do more to persuade their citizens not to make the dangerous journey to America.
Mr. Obama urged the presidents to amplify the public message that most people trying to get into the United States would not be permitted to stay. He also asked the leaders to do more to combat the smugglers who, for a price, are transporting the children.
“I emphasized that the American people and my administration have great compassion for these children,” Mr. Obama said after the meeting. He added, “But I also emphasized to my friends that we have to deter a continuing influx of children putting themselves at risk.”
The high-profile meeting came as the administration continued to press Congress for more resources and authority to confront the flood of migrants, especially children, who have crossed into the Rio Grande Valley in Texas in recent months. More than 57,000 unaccompanied children and thousands more adults with children have crossed the border since October.
On Thursday — in meetings with Capitol Hill lawmakers and in a discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research group in Washington — the presidents of Guatemala and Honduras offered a preview of what they were likely to say to Mr. Obama. The two presidents placed much of the blame for the current border crisis on the United States. While they said they were working to crack down on drug trafficking and violence in their own countries, they also called upon the United States to share in the responsibility for the crisis.
Honduras’ Mr. Hernandez pointed in part to “the ambiguity that has been the hallmark of the debate of the reform of the immigration process in this country.”
“Here we have to say that the coyotes, the smugglers, who are very much a part of organized-crime networks, perversely have sought to exploit those ambiguities and peddle a mistaken, a totally wrong interpretation to the parents of these children in saying, ‘You can get your kids in the U.S.; we can do it for you,’” Mr. Hernandez said in his remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
He added that while “those coyotes, those smugglers are nothing other than the human face of an enormous criminal monster that has one foot firmly in the camp of the drug lords and in Central America,” the “second foot is here in the United States, under American jurisdiction.”
Administration officials reject the idea that Mr. Obama’s policies — including stopping deportations for young immigrants who were brought to the United States as children — are responsible for creating any confusion about who will be allowed to stay in the country.
It is unclear whether the White House plans to announce new financial assistance for the Central American countries to help combat the drugs and violence that are causing many of their citizens to flee. Administration officials declined to say whether there might be any announcements of additional aid after the meeting.
Mr. Obama also used the meeting to pressure U.S. lawmakers to act on his request for emergency funding before they leave Washington for their annual summer break at the beginning of August. That debate over how to handle the migrant children has all but stalled on Capitol Hill, where Senate Democrats and House Republicans this week unveiled competing proposals for Mr. Obama’s request for emergency funds — both far less than the $3.7 billion for which the president initially asked.United States - North America - Central America - Latin America and Caribbean - Barack Obama - Guatemala - Honduras