President Barack Obama signs two presidential memoranda associated with his actions on immigration in his office, on Air Force One as he arrives at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nov. 21, 2014.
Carolyn Kaster—AP
By Alex Rogers
November 21, 2014

House Speaker John Boehner is arguing that President Obama’s moves to defer deportations for up to five million undocumented immigrants will make illegal immigration worse, citing President Obama’s own past words to make the argument.

But a top immigration expert disagreed, arguing that the causes of illegal immigration are more complex.

Obama announced Thursday that he would allow millions of undocumented immigrant parents of U.S. citizen and legal permanent resident children who have been living in the country for at least five years to avoid deportation for three years if they pay back taxes and pass a criminal background check.

Boehner said that will only encourage more people to try to cross the border. His office pointed to a 2010 Obama statement in which the President said that providing undocumented workers legal status “could lead to a surge in more illegal immigration.”

“The action by the President yesterday will only encourage more people to come here illegally and put their lives at risk,” said Boehner. “We saw the humanitarian crisis on our border last summer—how horrific it was. Well next summer, it could be worse.”

Boehner was referring to a surge in unaccompanied minors from October 2013 through September, when over 68,000 unaccompanied minors crossed the southwest border, a 77% increase over the previous year. (The number of children coming over has sharply declined in the past few months.)

But Doris Meissner, the director of the Migration Policy Institute’s immigration policy work, said that Boehner’s criticism was off. Here’s what she told TIME:

It goes to the more general idea of whether a legal status program functions as a magnet to future illegal immigration and that’s always something that’s been out there and has been a concern, but the reality today is that we have invested so much in southwest border enforcement…and the President has underscored that again that he is going to allocate even more additional resources to border enforcement. The evidence that we have is that our illegal immigration across the southwest border is at it’s lowest level since the early 1970s when the current wave of illegal immigration largely from Mexico began, we have net minus immigration from Mexico.

The child migrant spurt that happened over the last year was much more a function of conditions in those three countries—Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador—and notion of ‘permisos’ in the United States. But that’s now really receded dramatically. So if you take the spurt of Central American crossings out of the numbers for last year, you find the lowest levels of illegal immigration apprehensions across the southwest border in decades. Now that’s not to say that you can discount Central American migration but…it’s a function of different circumstances then the illegal immigration that has led to what the President is saying now.

This action that he has taken now is retrospective. You have to have been in the country for five years to qualify for it. It’s for people as of the date of announcement; there’s no eligibility for people that might be coming forward in the future. I do think that the underpinnings today are quite different and it’s pretty hard to make the case that this particular action would spur a future migration.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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