Reality Check: What Led to Immigration Crisis?

Critics of President Obama claim his executive order in 2012 led to today’s crisis, and the numbers suggest they may have a case.

President Obama and the Department of Homeland Security will ask Congress for $2 billion to help immediately stem a child migrant tidal wave that’s threatening to spiral out of control.

But are they looking to pay for a problem the administration helped to create?

Some of Obama’s critics in Congress, such as Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) allege that a policy such as the President’s 2012 executive order, “DACA,” that deferred deportation for some children who live in the U.S. without documentation, has created a vicious cycle.

"We are essentially incentivizing the flow of this population by not returning the unaccompanied juveniles to their countries of origins quickly,” Cole said recently from the House floor.

On NBC’s Meet the Press, host David Gregory prodded Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to explain what role, if any, DACA has played in the swelling number of unaccompanied minors held up at the border.

“Well, that’s the point we keep stressing,” Johnson responded. “The deferred action program is for kids who came to this country seven years ago, it’s not for anyone who comes to this country today, tomorrow or yesterday.”

But despite the fact DACA offers no protections to children migrating unlawfully to the U.S. today, the numbers indicate child migrants are still flocking at skyrocketing rates.

Already this year, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol reports apprehending 52,000 unaccompanied migrant children, a figure that could swell to as many as 90,000 by the fall.

By contrast, in 2011, the year before President Obama’s executive order went into effect, Border Patrol reported a little more than 15,000 such detentions.

Should the 90,000 figure hold (or even come close), the administration would be looking at a roughly a 600 percent increase of unaccompanied migrant children in just three years.

Is there another explanation for the catastrophic rise, other than the president’s policy?

Elizabeth Kennedy, a doctoral student at San Diego State University and Fulbright scholar who has been living in Central America since October interviewing migrant children, says absolutely: An increase in violence.

“At the same time the violence has gone up, the willingness of the state to protect its citizens has gone down,” Kennedy said. “So, what you have is people who are more or less for themselves, and if you find yourself in a position where you are targeted by crime you do not have anyone to turn to.”

Kennedy currently resides in El Salvador, one of three countries, along with Honduras and Guatemala, that have witnessed a massive uptick in unaccompanied children trying to cross the border.

She says kidnapping, rape, extortion and disappearances are all on the rise, with climbing murder rates also contributing to mass migration.

“For the month of May, 401 people were murdered in El Salvador,” Kennedy observed. “And 379 in June. That’s an average of 12-and-a-half murders per day. You know, there’s nowhere else in the world besides a handful of countries, like Syria, South Sudan and Honduras that have higher homicide rates.”

The reality is that the U.S. shares these concerns.

The White House has issued travel warnings for both El Salvador and Honduras.

In its caution to U.S. citizens traveling to El Salvador, the government notes, “crime and violence levels in El Salvador remain critically high.”

Violence in the region has clearly played a role.

The hard data, however, shows us that the jump in migrant child apprehensions has coincided neatly with the advent of DACA, with the biggest growth coming shortly after 2012.

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service recently issued a report on the very subject.

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