Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

5 things you need to know about the immigration crisis

By Halimah Abdullah, CNN
updated 9:59 PM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Partisanship flares as frustrations mount over surge of undocumented immigrant kids
  • The problem has multi-faceted roots and there were signs that a surge was coming
  • Both the Obama administration and Congress can do more to stem the problem
  • NEW: The White House says that most children probably won't be permitted to stay

Washington (CNN) -- Partisan hyperbole has ratcheted up as the Obama administration grapples with thousands of young undocumented immigrants surging the U.S.-Mexico border and facing angry protesters on the way to overcrowded detention centers.

Republicans blame President Barack Obama for exacerbating the problem. They say the policy of temporarily deferring deportations of children sent a signal to thousands of kids fleeing poverty and violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that they could stay in America.

Immigrant children tread treacherous political landscape

And even one Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar, whose Texas district borders where immigrant children cross the Rio Grande Valley, feels Obama has been "one step behind."

Obama and many Democrats say House Republicans are to blame for rejecting Senate-passed immigration reform last year without coming up with their own plan.

And in the latest development on Monday, the White House said most children involved probably won't be allowed to stay in the country.

Beyond the bickering, both sides have valid points, immigration policy and law experts say. Here's a reality check.

Dems face immigration dilemma
Is immigration reform dead?
Murrieta Mayor on immigration protests

1. Why is this happening? Unaccompanied minors have been trekking to the United States in steadily increasing numbers since 2012, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

Over roughly the past year or so, however, both the numbers and home countries shifted dramatically. Where previously Mexican children made up the bulk of them, a surge more recently from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador has been seen.

"In reality, there is no single cause. Instead, a confluence of different pull and push factors has contributed to the upsurge," the institute's analysis found. "Recent U.S. policies toward unaccompanied children, faltering economies and rising crime and gang activity in Central American countries, the desire for family reunification, and changing operations of smuggling networks have all converged."

An administration program that defers the deportation of children brought in illegally by their parents or guardians has also had unintended consequences, immigration policy and law experts say.

Although most children pouring over the border now would not qualify for "amnesty," drug smugglers have used misperceptions about the program to entice kids with the promise of "permisos," or a pass to stay in America, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told a congressional committee recently.

Inaction by the House on immigration reform has also exacerbated the problem, experts say.

Such reforms would help stabilize employment prospects for immigrants who left their kids behind. As a result, those children might not feel as compelled to flee, experts say.

2. Should government have seen it coming?: Yes.

Last year, federal agencies noticed an uptick in minors crossing the border — particularly in the Rio Grande Valley, according to a report from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

The same agencies have also realized those "children present unique operational challenges" for Border Patrol and Health and Human Services. The administration was also aware that it couldn't simply deport them.

Immigrants arrive in California
Obama to ask Congress for emergency funds
Obama to Congress: 'Pass a darn bill'

The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which was signed into law and reauthorized several times during President George W. Bush's administration set guidelines on how to best handle unaccompanied immigrant children.

In 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services was authorized to take over the care of kids, which includes helping meet their health and legal needs, no later than 72 hours after being picked up by the Border Patrol.

At a House Homeland Security Committee hearing last month, federal officials said they were having difficulties meeting the 72-hour hand off.

The administration has asked Congress to give the Border Patrol more leeway in deportation decisions but doing so is murky, immigration advocates say, since it involves a young and vulnerable population.

3. What's being done now? Obama is vowing to act on his own and use his executive authority to sidestep the House, changes some proponents say could help address the problem.

Should Obama use the power of his pen to turn the tide on immigration reform?

Obama has discussed Mexico's role with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Vice President Joe Biden brainstormed strategies with Central American leaders in Guatemala.

Johnson also will travel to Guatemala this summer and he made a public service announcement in Spanish and English last month aimed at Central American parents.

He stressed sending children to smugglers who sneak them across the border is dangerous and illegal.

Immigration officials also released graphic ads over the weekend with the same message. There is also an effort against drug cartel smuggling rings, and consideration of deploying more Border Patrol agents.

Protesters block undocumented immigrants
Prize-winning reporter: I'm undocumented
Is immigration reform dead?

White House to spend millions to curb undocumented children crossing border

Obama will request more than $2 billion from Congress to help deal with the problem.

Though now, the administration plans to spend roughly $100 million in aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to help the immigrant children get back home and stay there.

It also setting aside $161.5 million this year for programs designed to help Central American countries respond to "pressing security and governance challenges."

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday the "law will be enforced."

This means children who have been apprehended "will go through the immigration court process" and it's unlikely that most who do so "will qualify" to stay in the country.

4. Would an immigration bill have prevented this? Perhaps, immigration law and policy experts say.

Obama likes to blame the House for not passing a Senate immigration bill that also included a path to citizenship for an estimated 8 million of the more than 11 million undocumented workers in the country.

Those reforms would have helped immigrant families become more economically stable. Those parents, in turn, would have more money to send back home which, as a result, would help eliminate the type of poverty affected kids experience.

5. Will Obama go to the border? He is in Texas for fundraisers and for an economy event this week. However, White House officials say he has no plans to visit the border now.

The White House feels that things are in hand. "The President is very aware of the situation that exists on the southwest border," Earnest said, noting that other officials have traveled there and what they've seen "is troubling."

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has loudly called for Obama to visit the border.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:27 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
When George W. Bush couldn't get an immigration overhaul though the Senate, he gave up. When Barack Obama couldn't get a bill through the House, he changed the rules.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
President Obama is ordering the most sweeping overhaul of the immigration system in decades.
updated 1:12 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Read a transcript of President Obama's speech on immigration, as prepared for delivery.
updated 5:59 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Opponents of the President's plan focused their criticism on the legal case, saying Obama has overstepped the boundaries of his authority.
Here are 5 myths about undocumented immigrants, and why they're wrong.
updated 5:28 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Here's a look at what you need to know about immigration in the U.S.
updated 12:11 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
Explore the journey out of the shadows led by undocumented immigrant and filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas in CNN Films' "Documented."
updated 5:23 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
It's coming next week. Or next month. It'll protect 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. Or 3 million. Or less.
For immigrant children, their time in the U.S. all depends on luck and chance -- something immigration opponents see as problematic.
updated 3:02 PM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
A new survey about preferences and trends in Mexico concludes that one out of every three Mexicans would migrate to the United States if given the opportunity.
A 14-year-old and his mother go on a dangerous and illegal journey. They made it to America. But what happens next?
updated 5:20 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
Photographers capture all sides of the story as the crisis on the border continues.
updated 8:44 AM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
John King, Manu Raju and Molly Ball discuss the Maryland governor's mixed message on housing undocumented migrants.
updated 9:06 AM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
The Central Americans crossing the U.S. border in massive waves have been described as immigrants or refugees.
updated 5:42 PM EDT, Thu June 19, 2014
An explainer on how thousands of children are creating a crisis in America.
updated 9:39 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to get beyond the question of who's to blame for the crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border.
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Sat June 28, 2014
David Martinez grew up thinking he was just an average American kid. Turns out, he was wrong.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
CNN's Rosa Flores shares her family's immigration story.
updated 12:17 PM EDT, Sat June 21, 2014
Dozens of mothers and children file through a Tucson bus station daily. Everything is up in the air. The only thing they know for sure is where they're going next.
ADVERTISEMENT