(CNSNews.com) - For several weeks, the Obama administration has failed to answer a question about how many illegal immigrants are showing up for their court hearings, and it happened again on Monday:
"I don't have a specific number in front of me," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told a reporter.
"I've been asking this for a couple of weeks," the reporter responded.
"I know," Earnest said. "But there are a couple of things that are important for you to understand.
"The first is...if I did have that number here, it would not necessarily give you an accurate picture of what's actually happening, because what we're seeing is that we've seen this recent surge, just in the last few weeks, of recent arrivals. Sometimes, because the backlog is rather lengthy, the Notice to Appear is, in some cases, a rather lengthy period of time.
"So ...those who are given a Notice to Appear but did not appear for their court date, that might not necessarily give you a very accurate picture of what exactly is happening. So --
"But it's a pretty small number, right?" the reporter interrupted. "I mean, not many are showing up for their hearings, right?"
"I don't have the number in front of me," Earnest repeated.
"Is it closer to 10 percent than 100 percent?" the reporter persisted.
"I think what the number would illustrate, if I had it in front of me, it would illustrate that the court system is not operating as efficiently as we would like it to, particularly in light of the recent surge at the Southwest border, and that's why we're seeking additional resources to whittle down that backlog, to more efficiently deal with those who've been recently apprehended, and making sure that we are enforcing the law."
Earnest pointed to a 2008 law, signed by President George W. Bush, as the reason why fewer children are being deported now than in previous years. That law says children entering the U.S. from non-contiguous countries must be treated differently than children entering from Mexico.
Instead of being immediately deported, the flood of children from Central America must be turned over the the Department of Health and Human Services while they await court hearings to determine if they qualify for asylum.
The Obama administration planned to ask Congress to change the law, so it could treat Central American minors the same way it treats children from Mexico. But the Associated Press reported on Monday that Obama won't seek legal changes immediately, given objections from immigration activists.
"The White House insists the kids must be returned," the AP reported on Monday. "Administration officials say they are still working on ways to do it faster, but say that the request for specific legislative changes will move on a separate track than the emergency spending request Obama is sending to Congress on Tuesday."
The White House on Tuesday will ask Congress for emergency spending of $2 billion to house the tens of thousands of unaccompanied alien children and provide additional immigration judges, attorneys and asylum advocates to help the children when and if they go to court.
"There are some suggestions from our opponents that the problem here is the president's not enforcing the law," Earnest said on Monday. "The fact is the president is enforcing the (2008) law. And what we are seeking is greater authority to more effectively enforce that law that would allow the administration to act more quickly, in some cases, to return children from the country where they originated if it's found that they don't have a legal standing for remaining here."
More than 50,000 unaccompanied minors have been caught entering the U.S. illegally so far this year, most of them from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
According to Earnest on Monday, "it is our expectation that after going through the legal process that the majority of these kids will not qualify for humanitarian relief."