President Obama fought the battle of the border on two fronts Friday, meeting with the leaders of the three Central American countries that have sent the most children into the United States while the White House continued to press Congress to approve the money he said he needs to send the kids back home.
The president met for about two hours with Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, and El Salvador President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, a day after they had talked to leaders on Capitol Hill. At the meeting, Obama proposed a pilot program that would begin in Honduras before being expanded to other countries. In it, those applying for refugee status would be screened in their own countries before making the dangerous trek to the United States, rather than after arriving here.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest cast this pilot program as one way to stem the flow of children. "We want to try to find a way that we can meet the humanitarian needs of these individuals," he said. "And working with host governments to establish repatriation centers is an important step in that process."
The White House was vague on the specifics of the program, however. "At this stage it's too early for me to say what those numbers would look like," Earnest said. "But our broader intent here is as a broad message of deterrence, that people would see that there is an organized process if they feel like they have a legitimate asylum claim, that they don't need to make the dangerous journey to the U.S. to make that asylum claim, that they can be processed in their own country. And that would, we hope, serve as a pretty effective deterrent."