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Political Chatter: Obama blamed for immigration influx

By Leigh Ann Caldwell, CNN
updated 3:46 PM EDT, Sun July 6, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Texas Gov. Rick Perry said President Obama has an "ulterior motive"
  • Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said the administration is "one-step behind"
  • The administration said it is working within "the confines of the law"

(CNN) -- In what has become a dire and politically explosive situation at the border that includes droves of unaccompanied young border-crossers, overcrowded holding facilities, angry protesters and finger-pointing politicians, Washington struggles to get the situation under control. Politicians, however, easily point fingers of blame.

On Sunday, politicians from both sides of the political aisle said President Barack Obama is not doing enough to stem the influx of immigrants -- some young children -- from coming to the United States.

Obama to blame

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, who represents the district where the immigrants are crossing the Rio Grande Valley at the southernmost tip of the Longhorn State, said the Obama administration is "one step behind."

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"They should have seen this a long time ago, because we saw those numbers increasing," he said on CNN's "State of the Union," referring to the rise of undocumented immigrants across the border in recent years.

Cuellar said that in 2009, about 6,000 unaccompanied children crossed the border, which jumped to 25,000 in 2013. (The Los Angeles Times estimated 39,000 children crossed last year.) But just in May, Cuellar said the number exploded to 9,700 unaccompanied children who unlawfully crossed the border.

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Up to 80,000 children are expected this year, most coming from Central America.

"They knew this was happening a year ago, last year. And ... they're not reacting fast enough at this time, in my personal opinion," Cuellar said.

Cuellar has been putting pressure on the administration to more aggressively address the issue, but his blunt remarks on national television Sunday reveals the level of frustration he has as his district is the entry point for many. He says the drug cartels are in part to blame and at an average of $5,000 per person are making hundreds of millions of dollars shuttling mothers with children and unaccompanied children into the United States.

Like those children, I too fled Central America

Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry also blasted the President for what he calls his lack of engagement. Perry said he sent the administration a letter in 2012 outlining the rise of unaccompanied children crossing into Texas.

He even went so far, again, to say that Obama might be culpable.

"You are either inept or you have some ulterior motive of which you are functioning from."

Perry's remark didn't go quite as far as a statement he made on Fox News in June when he said, "I hate to be conspiratorial," before he floated a conspiracy theory, "but I mean how do you move that many people from Central America across Mexico and then into the United States without there being a fairly coordinated effort?"

Perry's tone, however, was a change from just last week when he testified at a congressionally led hearing in McAllen, Texas, near the Mexico border. "I'm tired of pointing fingers and blaming people," he said at the hearing. "I hope what we can do is come up with some solutions here."

Perry, who is contemplating another run at the Republican presidential nomination, on Sunday said Obama has caused the situation.

"It is a failure of diplomacy. It is a failure of leadership," he said.

But Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, defended the President, saying he "understands what needs to be done."

He said Republicans need to look in the mirror when they issue blame. "They had the opportunity for one solid year to call the Immigration Reform Bill. And yet they refused to," he said on CBS News' "Face the Nation."

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, a main proponent of the comprehensive immigration reform that passed the Senate but has been stalled in the Republican-led House, said the situation "breaks my heart" because it hurts any chance there was of completing work on the bill any time soon.

What can be done

The administration says it is working "within the confines of the law" to address the crisis, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said. "There are a number of things that the President and I, within the confines of the law, can do to fix the broken immigration system, and we will," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press." He said the administration's actions include speeding up deportation for the adult immigrants.

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But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, also a proponent of immigration reform, said the children must be sent back. "If you don't, you're going to incentivize people throughout that part of the world to keep sending their children here," he said on "Face the Nation."

The administration's options are somewhat limited. A 2008 human trafficking law says children immigrants from Central America cannot be immediately returned to their country of origin and must be cared for humanely.

The children are transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for finding relatives in the United States with whom the children can stay. The youths are given immigration court dates but most don't appear, adding to the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

Cuellar said the law "needs to be changed at this time."

Obama has asked Congress to change the law but Congress' path forward is unclear.

Perry, however, refused to indicate a law signed by Republican President George W. Bush was part of the problem. He focused his demands on border security, which is the standard Republican talking point on immigration reform.

He said he's only worried about one law: "The Constitution requires the United States to secure the border. And we're not doing that."

In response to Customs and Border Enforcement Commissioner, Gil Kerlikowske, saying he "is confident" the border patrol has the resources after the deployment of more than 250 additional agents recently, Perry said maintained his insistence that lax border security is the problem.

He is "absolutely and totally wrong," Perry said, noting that Texas has seven agents per mile compared with 15 per mile along other parts of the border.

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CNN's Ashley Killough and Greg Clary contributed to this report.

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