Is Anything Obama's Fault?

President Obama blamed the recent influx of unaccompanied children crossing our southern border on violence in Central America. I expected the usual media suspects to support Obama’s narrative, as well as the ever-popular Blame-Bush excuse. I did not expect the usually more rational Wall Street Journal, and specifically Mary Anastasia O’Grady (whom I had admired), to support them.

“Well, I think, Paul, what you have is a combination of factors, both push-and-pull factors. So from Central America, you have lots of crime and violence… the effect of the war on drugs in Central America has created chaos and a breakdown of institutions in Central America… And the pull factors, I think, are, first of all, most important, is an asylum opportunity that children have because of a law passed in 2008 during the Bush administration --”

There they go again: violence in Central America and, of course, Bush. It’s everyone’s fault except Obama’s. (By the way, the 2008 Wilberforce bill was sponsored by a California Democrat and passed in the Senate with “unanimous consent” when Barack Obama was a Senator. Bush signed it after Obama had won the election in November.)

Let’s go to the tape (which I first touched on last week). The US Border Patrol provides the numbers of unaccompanied children apprehended at the border for fiscal years 2009 through June of 2014. The graph below shows the numbers for El Salvador and Guatemala.

It is obvious that there has been an explosion in these border-crossing numbers, and only after 2011. The numbers for Honduras, the third country most contributing to this explosion, would present a similar graph. (Note that the numbers for 2014 are only through June, or through 9 of the 12 months of the fiscal year.)

Now look at the evidence on Central American violence and the drug war. First, the Drug War has been around for over 40 years. It would not contribute to a sudden jump in 2012 unless some drug war policy changed since about 2011.

The homicide rates for El Salvador and Guatemala, as provided by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (most recent data is for 2012), indicate no recent upswing in violence in those countries. First, the murder rate in those countries has been significantly higher than that of the US for many years -- 5 to 10 times higher.

But for both countries, the murder rate has been declining since 2005 (linear regression), and declining more rapidly since 2009.

(It is true that the murder rate in Honduras has been increasing since 2006. But if the trend in child apprehensions from Honduras is similar to those of El Salvador and Guatemala, but the murder rate trends are opposite, wouldn’t that indicate that violence is not the cause of the recent border crossings by unattended children?)

The War On Drugs has been with us since 1970. The Wilberforce Act became law in 2008. The murder rates in El Salvador and Guatemala were declining from 2005 through 2012. Yet the number of children crossing the border was fairly low and steady through 2011 -- a full three years after the 2008 law.

My “keen grasp of the obvious” criterion says we should be looking for things that changed in late 2011 or early 2012 for the most likely causes of the explosion in child border crossings.

Did anything change around then? Yes, two things, maybe three, all authored by President Obama.

  • In August 2011, Obama directed ICE to use “prosecutorial discretion” to keep its hands off children here illegally (under the guise of prioritizing criminal aliens).
  • In June 2012, Obama made that policy more formal with his DREAM executive order. Children would not be deported.
  • If there were any recent changes in our drug policies or drug war execution in Central America, they happened comfortably into Obama’s term in office.

This seems simple to me. In 2011 Obama let it be known that the US will not deport children, and in 2012 the number of children crossing the border exploded.

Did the people of El Salvador just find out about a 2008 US law in 2012? Did a decline in murder rates accompany an increase in other violence and corruption in Central America? Did Drug War polices in place prior to 2009 cause Central America’s murder rates to decline from 2005 through 2012, yet also cause children to leave there unattended 2012-14?

The standard explanations do not compute. The logic of O’Grady is, at best, pure post hoc ergo propter hoc. But her explanations don’t even pass a first-order smell test of critical thinking.

Obama has been President for 5½ years. He might just be responsible for something by now.

(By the way, I was never a fan of the Drug War in the first place. I had never heard of the Wilberforce Act until recently. I don’t defend either one; eliminate them both if you like. But to blame the recent influx of children across our border on them is, well, stupid.)


Randall Hoven can be reached at or on Twitter.