By Justin Sink
President Obama asked Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to work with the U.S. to to discuss the flood of unaccompanied children crossing the border in a phone call Thursday afternoon.
Obama noted areas where the U.S. and Mexico could collaborate, including on programs to safely return children to their families and “to build Central American capacity to receive returned individuals,” the White House said in a statement.
The president also highlighted efforts Vice President Joe Biden will undertake Friday to rally regional leaders to address the influx of unaccompanied minors.
During a visit to Guatemala City, Biden will meet first with Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina to "discuss the scale and scope of the problem," according to a White House aide.
Later, the pair will join Salvadoran President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, Honduran Coordinator General Jorge Ramón Hernández Alcerro and Mexican Secretary of Government Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong for a working lunch on the topic.
Biden will look to "address some of the misperceptions of U.S. immigration policy and discuss the fact that unaccompanied children arriving as part of this surge will not be eligible for deferred action," according to a White House official.
Obama, too, stressed that arriving migrants would not qualify for legalization under proposed immigration reform legislation or the deferred action program in his call with Nieto.
The vice president will also brief the regional leaders on ways the U.S. is attempting to handle the influx of immigrant children, including "the resources we are bringing to bear," the official said.
Biden and Obama's push to discuss U.S. immigration policy suggests that the administration is concerned it could be a contributing factor to the thousands of immigrant children who have crossed the border.
Earlier this month, the White House rejected Republican charges that the surge in illegal immigration was the result of the president's decision to allow some children who entered the U.S. illegally before 2007 to remain in the country.
"It is a direct consequence of the president’s illegal actions," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told Breitbart News. "The parents think, 'If I send my child [to the U.S.], my child will have amnesty.' That's what the president of the U.S. has said. It is the exact opposite of a humane approach to immigration or to securing our borders."
White House spokesman Josh Earnest initially scoffed at attempts to link the two, saying he would not “put a lot of stock in the ability of Republicans members of Congress to divine the thoughts and insights of children in Central American countries.”
“For whatever reasons, there are some who oppose this compromise and will cite a wide range of things to suggest why they think that immigration [reform] shouldn't get done,” he continued. “I mean, I guess, apparently, that extends to trying to divine the motivations and thoughts of minors who don't live in this country.”
And a senior administration official said it was “abundantly clear” that the uptick was because of violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, where the vast majority of the thousands of immigrants who have flooded across the Texas border are from.
White House officials also noted that the children who crossed the border would not be eligible for deferred action and would be returned to their home countries.
Pressed if Biden's trip signaled the White House now believed misperceptions of the deferred action was a contributing factor, Earnest said he did not "want to put myself in a position of being able to understand exactly what’s happening."
"If there are steps that these countries can take to ensure the safety of their children and to dissuade parents from entrusting them in the hands of strangers to try to deliver them to the United States, we’d like to shut that off as quickly as we can," he said.
"And some of that is making sure that those parents understand exactly what the law is, and the law says that these unaccompanied minors when they show up at the border would not qualify for deferred action, like the administration announced a couple years ago."
This story was updated at 8:34 p.m.