Now his mixed messages have come home to bite him.
After a meeting Friday with the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, whose nationals have flooded the U.S.-Mexico border in hope that they will be allowed to stay, Obama again gave those mostly-underaged immigrants hope in a speech designed to discourage them from trying to enter the U.S. illegally.
He said that "within a legal framework and a humanitarian framework and proper due process, children who do not have proper claims and families with children who do not have proper claims, at some point will be subject to repatriation to their home countries."
That's a loophole big enough to fit tens of thousands of those already in the U.S., and not much of a deterrent to those still trying to enter the country.
The White House has insisted that illegal immigrants detained by border security will be repatriated as soon as their claims for asylum are adjudicated, but adjudication has proven problematic. The Executive Office for Immigration Review faces a backlog of 375,000 cases, and the Dallas Morning News reports that 46 percent of court summons go unanswered. Of 20 illegal immigrants scheduled for initial deportation hearings last Tuesday in Dallas, only two showed up. The judge reset the hearings for a later date.
Deportation — if it ever happens at all — could take months, could take years. Who really knows?
The Los Angeles Times reported Friday that "White House officials are laying the groundwork for a large-scale expansion of immigrant rights that would come by executive action within weeks," although perhaps they'll wait "until after the November midterm election."
The story continues, "officials signaled strongly Friday that Obama's move would shield from deportation large numbers of immigrants living in the country illegally, as advocacy groups have demanded." Reportedly, the administration may grant temporary legal status to adult illegal immigrants with U.S.-born children. This move would affect roughly 5 million of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country.
If actions speak louder than words, which message will be loud enough to reach prospective travelers in Central America?
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez told Politico's Susan Glasser that "lack of clarity [in U.S. law] is used by coyotes [traffickers] to perversely deceive the families that are here, telling them that they can bring their kids and that their entry can be resolved legally later."
No doubt the coyotes, who have every incentive to keep the immigrants coming, will seize on the Obama administration's latest plan. At some point, "at some point" isn't good enough.