TIME Immigration

Obama: Migrant Children Without Humanitarian Claims Will Be Sent Back

U.S. President Obama speaks to the media while he hosts a meeting with El Salvador's President Sanchez Ceren, Guatemala's President Perez Molina and Honduras' President Orlando Hernandez in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington
President Obama speaks to the media while hosting a meeting with the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to discuss the flow of undocumented migrants from their countries, at the White House in Washington on Friday, July 25, 2014. Larry Downing—Reuters

An estimated 90,000 migrant children could cross into the U.S. before September. The President met with leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to discuss ways to slow the influx

President Barack Obama took a tough line on the thousands of unaccompanied migrant children who have crossed the nation’s southern border in recent months, saying those without humanitarian claims will be subject to return to their home countries eventually.

Meeting with the leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, Obama continued his efforts to dissuade parents from sending their children on the often dangerous journey to the United States. “Children who do not have proper claims,” Obama said, “will at some point be subject to repatriation to their home countries.”

But Obama did preview what the administration is calling a “pilot program” that he is considering in Honduras to allow those with refugee claims to make them from that country without physically making the journey to the United States.

“Typically refugee status is not granted just on economic need or because a family lives in a bad neighborhood or poverty,” Obama said. “It’s typically defined fairly narrowly.”

“There may be some narrow circumstances in which there is humanitarian or refugee status that a family might be eligible for,” he added. “If that were the case it would be better for them to apply in-country rather than take a very dangerous journey up to Texas to make those same claims. But I think it’s important to recognize that that would not necessarily accommodate a large number of additional migrants.”

Obama said such a system would keep smugglers from profiting off families seeking better lives for their children, and “makes this underground migration system less necessary.”

Earlier this month Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson estimated that up to 90,000 migrant children will attempt to cross into the U.S. during the fiscal year ending this September.

TIME Immigration

Migrant Girls Share Haunting Stories About Why They Fled

Central American Female Immigrants
Central American immigrants await transportation to a U.S. Border Patrol processing center on July 24, 2014 near Mission, Texas. John Moore—Getty Images

A recent UN report gives haunting accounts from some of the girls who fled

The number of young girls captured at the US-Mexico border has increased by 77 percent this year, according to Pew Research Center analysis released Friday.

The number of girls under the age of 18 apprehended at the border this fiscal year was 13,008 compared to last year’s 7,339, according to Pew. The number of boys under 18 apprehended is still much higher at 33,924, but that represents only an 8% increase from 2013.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released a report earlier this year that included haunting accounts from some of the young girls apprehended, in an analysis of 404 children from Mexico and Central America who had been detained at the border.

“The head of the gang that controlled her neighborhood wanted Josefina to be his girlfriend and threatened to kidnap her or to kill one of her family members if she didn’t comply,” the report writes, of one 16-year-old from El Salvador. “Josefina knew another girl from her community who had become the girlfriend of a gang member and had been forced to have sex with all the gang members.”

Two-thirds of the children from El Salvador, both male and female, reported threats of violence from organized crime as one reason for fleeing. “One of [the gang members] ‘liked’ me. Another gang member told my uncle that he should get me out of there because the guy who liked me was going to do me harm,” said 15-year-old Maritza. “In El Salvador they take young girls, rape them and throw them in plastic bags. My uncle told me it wasn’t safe for me to stay there.”

Other girls reported domestic violence as a reason for leaving. Lucia, a 16-year-old from Guatemala, escaped her abusive grandmother’s home only to move in with an abusive boyfriend. “He beat me almost every day,” Lucia said. “I stayed with him for four months. I left because he tried to kill me by strangling me. I left that same day.”

The increasing numbers of children from Mexico and Central America seeking refuge in the United States has prompted a legislative battle in Washington. It remains unresolved.

TIME Immigration

Obama Weighing Refugee Status for Honduran Child Migrants

U.S. Agents Take Undocumented Immigrants Into Custody Near Tex-Mex Border
Immigrant Melida Patricio Castro from Honduras shows a birth certificate for her daughter Maria Celeste, 2, to a U.S. Border Patrol agent near the U.S.-Mexico border near Mission, Texas on July 24, 2014. John Moore—Getty Images

Administration believes it could be done by executive order

The Obama administration is considering granting refugee status to young Hondurans as part of a plan stem the tide of unaccompanied Central American child migrants flooding illegally across the U.S.-Mexico border, White House officials reportedly said Thursday.

Under the plan youths would be interviewed in Honduras to determine if they qualify for refugee status in the United States, CBS News reports. Administration officials told the New York Times they believed the move could be done by executive action, and without going through Congress, if it did not increase the overall number of refugees to the U.S.

The proposal is reportedly one of a broader group of potential initiatives to address the crisis.

After Speaker John Boehner said that the GOP-controlled House would not allow a vote on comprehensive immigration reform this year, the President announced that he was prepared “to do what Congress refuses to do, and fix as much of our immigration system as we can.”

More than 16,000 unaccompanied Honduran children and 30,000 Hondurans traveling as families have been apprehended attempting to cross into the United States from Mexico illegally since October 1.

Juan Orlando Hernández, the President of Honduras, blames the crisis on a combination of factors, including lack of opportunity inside the country and drug cartels and street gangs enriched by narcotics trafficking who sow havoc through much of the country. Honduras has the highest murder rate of any country in the world.

President Obama was due to meet with Hernandez, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina and El Salvadorean President Salvador Sanchez Ceren on Friday to discuss the high numbers of young immigrants crossing the border illegally.

TIME Immigration

Obama Eyes Major Immigration Move

Barack Obama, Joe Biden
President Barack Obama, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, speaks about immigration reform on June 30, 2014, in the White House Rose Garden in Washington. Manuel Balce Ceneta—AP

The President may be preparing to provide temporary legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants

When President Obama issues executive orders on immigration in coming weeks, pro-reform activists are expecting something dramatic: temporary relief from deportation and work authorization for perhaps several million undocumented immigrants. If the activists are right, the sweeping move would upend a contentious policy fight and carry broad political consequences.

The activists met privately with the President and his aides June 30 at the White House, and say in that meeting Obama suggested he will act before the November midterm elections. They hope his decision will offer relief to a significant percentage of the estimated 11.7 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. “He seems resolute that he’s going to go big and go soon,” says Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-reform group America’s Voice.

Exactly what Obama plans to do is a closely held secret. But following the meeting with the activists, Obama declared his intention to use his executive authority to reform parts of a broken immigration system that has cleaved families and hobbled the economy. After being informed by Speaker John Boehner that the Republican-controlled House would not vote on a comprehensive overhaul of U.S. immigration law this year, the President announced in a fiery speech that he was preparing “to do what Congress refuses to do, and fix as much of our immigration system as we can.”

Obama has been cautious about preempting Congress. But its failure to act has changed his thinking. The recent meeting “was really the first time we had heard from the administration that they are looking at” expanding a program to provide temporary relief from deportations and work authorization for undocumented immigrants, says Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

The White House won’t comment on how many undocumented immigrants could be affected. “I don’t want to put a number on it,” says a senior White House official, who says Obama’s timeline to act before the mid-term elections remains in place.

Obama has a broad menu of options at his disposal, but there are two major sets of changes he can order. The first is to provide affirmative relief from deportation to one or more groups of people. Under this mechanism, individuals identified as “low-priority” threats can come forward to seek temporary protection from deportation and work authorization. In 2012, the administration created a program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), that allowed eligible young unauthorized immigrants to apply for a two-year reprieve from deportation and a work permit.

The most aggressive option in this category would be expanding deferred action to anyone who could have gained legal status under the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate in June 2013. According to a Congressional Budget Office analysis, the Senate bill would have covered up to 8 million undocumented immigrants. It is unlikely that Obama goes that far. But even more modest steps could provide relief to a population numbering in the seven figures. “You can get to big numbers very quickly,” says Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank.

One plausible option would be to expand DACA to include some family members of those already eligible. Says a Congressional aide: “While there are several options to provide temporary deportation relief, we expect an expansion of the DACA program to other groups of individuals to be the most clear opportunity.”

It’s hard to pin down how many people this would cover; it would depend on how the administration crafts the order. But the numbers are substantial. According to the CBO, there are an estimated 4.7 million undocumented parents with a minor child living in the U.S., and 3.8 million whose children are citizens. Around 1.5 million undocumented immigrants are married to a U.S. citizen or lawful resident, but have been unable to gain legal status themselves.

Obama could also decide to grant protections for specific employment categories, such as the 1 million or so undocumented immigrants working in the agricultural sector, or to ease the visa restrictions hindering the recruitment of high-skilled foreign workers to Silicon Valley. Either move would please centrist and conservative business lobbies, who have joined with the left to press for comprehensive reform, and might help temper the blowback.

The second bucket of changes Obama is considering are more modest enforcement reforms. Jeh Johnson, Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security, is deep into a review of the administration’s enforcement practices, and it is likely Obama will order some changes to immigration enforcement priorities. But if these tweaks are the extent of the changes, it would be a blow to activists expecting more. “That’s crumbs off the table compared to the meal we’d be expecting,” says Sharry.

Until now, Obama has frustrated immigration-reform activists by insisting he has little latitude to fix a broken system on his own. To a large extent, he’s right. Any relief the President provides would be fleeting; it’s up to Congress to find a permanent solution by rewriting the law. Deferring deportations does not confer a green card. It only offers a temporary fix.

But legal experts say Obama does have the authority to take the kinds of executive action he is thought to be considering. “As a purely legal matter, the President does have wide discretion when it comes to immigration,” says Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration scholar at Cornell University Law School. “Just as DACA was within the purview of the president’s executive authority on immigration, so too would expanding DACA fall within the president’s inherent immigration authority.” According to a recent report by the Center for American Progress, categorical grants of affirmative relief to non-citizens have been made 21 times since 1976, by six different presidents.

Even if Obama is on firm footing from a legal standpoint, he would be wading into political quicksand. Republicans would assail him for extending mass “amnesty” to undocumented immigrants at a moment when the southern border faces an unresolved child-migration crisis. Immigration would become a signal topic in the fall elections, and given that Obama’s handling of the issue has slipped to just 31%, that wouldn’t necessarily favor the President’s party. It would likely damage vulnerable Democratic incumbents in red states, including several whose re-election could determine control of the Senate. And Congress’s incipient failure to reach an agreement on an emergency supplemental bill to address the border crisis muddies the waters even further.

At the same time, Obama will be pilloried by Republicans no matter what he does. Despite the short-term political consequences, in the long run a bold stroke could help cement the Democratic Party’s ties with the vital and fast-growing Hispanic voting bloc. And it would be a legacy for Obama, a cautious chief executive whose presidency has largely been shaped by events outside his control. In the case of immigration, he has the capacity to ease the pain felt by millions with the stroke of a pen.

“There are two ways this could go,” says Fitz of the Center for American Progress. Obama will be remembered as either “the deporter-in-chief, or the great emancipator. Those are the two potential legacies.”

With reporting by Alex Rogers and Zeke J. Miller/Washington

TIME Religion

Border Crisis: Central American Churches Try to Keep Children Home

Members of a Catholic church in a small town along the Guatemala and Mexico border hold a special mass celebrating the Virgin of Shelter.
Members of a Catholic church in El Pedregal, a small town along the Guatemala and Mexico border, hold a special Mass celebrating the Virgin of Shelter for undocumented migrants passing through their town, July 4, 2014. Meridith Kohut—The New York Times/Redux

Pastors in the United States and across Central America and Mexico have a new message: do not send kids to the border.

Thousands of children continue to cross the US-Mexico border without parents, and a growing group of Hispanic Christian pastors is urging churches across Central America to keep their children from making the trip. Their goal is ambitious: zero unaccompanied minors at the border by the end of the year.

The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference/CONELA, a Hispanic Christian network that serves more than 40,000 churches in the US and 500,000 worldwide, is spearheading the campaign along with three other US-based faith organizations, Buckner International, Convoy of Hope, and Somebody Cares International. Together they hope to mobilize their member churches and partners in Central and South America to stop the children’s migration. “I believe it is wrong for parents to send children to the US border when the primary protective firewall for these children lies in a loving Christ-filled home where faith, family and education stand prevalent,” Samuel Rodriguez, president of NHCLC/CONELA, explains. “Correspondingly, as a nation and as people of faith, we must serve, heal and minister to those that have arrived in our nation because theirs, according to Jesus, is the kingdom of heaven.”

For now, the coalition is spreading the message primarily from pulpits and via a media campaign. The group launched a new website, ForHisChildren.net, on Wednesday, and is also beginning a radio ad campaign targeting some 500 radio stations, both secular and Christian, in Central and South America. Their message is direct: “How can we best protect our children? By making Christ the center of our homes, for a family filled with faith, hope and love stands as the primary deterrent against gangs, drugs and violence,” one of the Spanish ads says. “Keep your children home. Do not send them to the US border rather declare like Joshua, ‘As for me and my house, we shall serve The Lord.’”

NHCLC/CONELA leaders took this message to a gathering of 2,000 church leaders from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, in Guadalajara, Mexico, on July 10. The risk and likelihood of physical and psychological hardship, sexual abuse, and gang involvement, Rodriguez explained to the pastors there, outweighs the perceived benefits of letting children try to enter the United States. He asked pastors to share this message from their own pulpits: “Con Fe en Cristo y la familia junta; nuestros ninos tienen un future,” which translates as, “With faith in Christ and the family together, our children have a future.”

Beyond the humanitarian crisis at the border, the US faith leaders have political incentive to advise constituents to keep kids at home—vast numbers of migrating children continue to complicate the political challenge of passing immigration reform, which the leaders support. From October through the end of June, nearly 60,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended crossing the US border, and nearly all were from Central American and Mexico. The number of children under age 12 who have been caught at the border has more than doubled this fiscal year over last year, according to data obtained by the Pew Research Center. Earlier this week, NHCLC members met with White House officials and, separately, with Senator Ted Cruz to share their recent efforts to prevent children from illegally coming to the US.

Fermín García, pastor of the 7,000-member strong church Grupo Unidad Cristiana de México (Christian Unity Group of Mexico) in Tijuana, leads the NHCLC Mexico chapter, which includes thousands of Church of God, Assemblies of God, Foursquare and Methodist churches. He is working to spread the message across Mexico pastor to pastor, and this week he met with leaders of the Foursquare denomination at their national convention in Baja California to give them copies of the media spots to share with their local churches. Biblical principles, he explains, are what ultimately change kids lives, and that’s one of the reasons it is so important for pastors to spread the keep-kids-home message. “Parents don’t want children to fall into gangs or with poverty, unfortunately it seems they are finding the same thing, only now away from their family,” Garcia says. “Changes come with hearts being changed, not with money.”

Costa Rican pastor Ricardo Castillo Medina, who serves as president of the Hispanic Federation of the Assemblies of God, was initially surprised to learn of the campaign, but he quickly joined and helped to coordinate awareness and humanitarian aid for children. His network in the most vulnerable immigration zones is large—2,300 churches in El Salvador, 1,750 in Honduras, 2,600 in Guatemala, 5,000 in Mexico. The churches in his network, he says, now have instructions to share messages to keep kids home with their communities. Families need to know, he explains via email, that the risks involved for children seeking the American dream could turn it into a nightmare. “We can avoid children suffering abuse and exposure to inhumane conditions, and besides that it is a social-political problem,” he says.

Whether the overall campaign works on the broad scale remains to be seen. The motivating forces behind the children’s migration, like violence and poverty, have far from an easy fix. “Everything is still new and you can’t yet measure the impact,” Castillo says, “but I think we’re going to raise awareness so that children are not used.”

TIME Immigration

Photographer Captures Birds-Eye View of Border Crisis

From a helicopter, photographer John Moore offers a glimpse of the U.S. border and those who work to patrol it

Flying above the southern tip of Texas in a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol chopper, photographer John Moore has witnessed the humanitarian crisis firsthand.

Since October, over 57,000 children have crossed America’s southern border illegally. Arrests have more than doubled in the Rio Grande Valley since 2011, according to a University of Texas at El Paso report published in March. Children 12 years of age and under are the fastest growing group of unaccompanied minors, according to Pew. And while the numbers have slowed recently—the White House said Monday that 150 children were apprehended per day in the first two weeks of July, compared to 355 per day in June—immigrants are streaming over in numbers that are rocking the Obama Administration and straining its resources.

Two departments in charge of arresting and removing immigrants who are in the country illegally—Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection—will go broke by mid-September, according to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, and the Department of Health and Human Services, which temporarily houses such children, doesn’t have enough beds. A few weeks ago, Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion to address the crisis; the Democratic-controlled Senate offered only $2.7 billion Wednesday and the House around $1.5 billion. But money isn’t the only problem. How to screen and process the children remains a major sticking point, and it’s looking like Congress will not pass a bill before members leave for the August recess.

Moore’s photographs—the shadows cast by the tall, rusty border fence; agents on the chase; one blue jean-clad immigrant handcuffed in a field of shrubs and sand; a gaggle of children walking before taken into custody; a patrol boat—focus on Ground Zero of the tragedy. They were taken on July 21 and 22 in McAllen and near a processing center in Falfurrias, Texas.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: July 23

1. The border isn’t the problem: A detailed, map-powered breakdown of the real story behind this immigration crisis.

By Zack Stanton in the Wilson Quarterly

2. With campaign finance rules in chaos, major corporations are setting a new standard with voluntary disclosures of political donations.

By Bruce F. Freed and Karl J. Sandstrom in U.S. News and World Report

3. It’s not about political correctness. Racist sports team names harm Native American youth.

By Erik Stegman and Victoria Phillips at the Center for American Progress

4. A simple move – replacing individual state bar exams with the Uniform Bar Exam – can bring much-needed reform to the legal profession.

By Baron YoungSmith in Slate

5. Computer modeling and big data are new weapons against disease-carrying insects.

By John Upton in Pacific Standard

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Newsmaker Interview

President of Honduras Expects Mass Deportations of Minors From U.S.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, July 17, 2014. Ross McDonnell for TIME

The problem of violence driving Central American migration has its roots in U.S. drug consumption, President Juan Orlando Hernández says in an exclusive interview with TIME

(TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras) — Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández has been warned by U.S. officials to expect a enormous wave of deportations from the United States, he told TIME in an interview at the presidential palace in the Honduran capital on July 17. “They have said they want to send them on a massive scale,” he said.

Before another planned visit to the United States beginning Thursday, Hernández said his country is preparing to receive the returnees but the United States needs to support him in building security in this Central American nation. He took power in January to confront what may be the biggest migration crisis in his country’s history, with tens of thousands of unaccompanied Central American children captured on the border in the United States.

Honduras has suffered with the world’s worst murder rate in any country outside a war zone, as street gangs known as maras have become increasingly linked to drug traffickers moving cocaine from the Andes region to the Unites States. Hernández said his government has worked hard to reduce this murder rate in his first months in office, but said violence is still a major problem driving the youth migration.

To combat the criminals, Hernández calls for a security plan with U.S. support, akin to Plan Colombia in which U.S. aid helped the South American nation battle drug traffickers and cocaine-funded guerrillas. The United States has a responsibility to help Honduras, Hernández says, because U.S. drug consumption is driving the violence.

The following exchange has been edited for brevity.

The wave of migration has generated a strong debate in the United States. How do explain this rapid rise in child migrants?

I believe there is a combination of factors. One is the lack of opportunities in Central America and we have to build opportunities here more quickly. Two is the issue of violence, because if you look, you will see that in the case of Honduras, the highest level of migration is in the places with the most conflict, particularly in the neighborhoods where the street gangs have become the armed wing of drug traffickers and kill each other for territorial control. . . . But the other factor, that we shouldn’t forget, is the lack of clarity of U.S. immigration policy. When the immigration debate goes on, disgracefully, the coyotes [the human smugglers] come and say, “Now is when you can bring your child from Central America.” . . . So my call to the United States is that it defines these rules with clarity.

The violence in Honduras is complex. What drives it more, drug cartels or street gangs?

What is happening in Honduras is that drug traffickers partnered with the street gangs so that the gangs did the violent work of extortion and kidnapping. What happened? When the huge packages of drugs arrived at the coast or landed in a plane, the drug traffickers said to Hondurans, “Move these drugs to Guatemala or Mexico, but I am going to pay you with drugs and you finance the operation.” So the street gangs carried out extortion and sold the drugs, contaminating society.

For this reason, I call for the principle of shared responsibility between those who produce [drugs] and those who consume them in the North. In the United States, many officials see the drug problem as basically one of health, as how much it costs to treat an addict and stop them getting involved. But for us it is life and death. That is the difference. . . .

I want to remind the North American people what happened before Mayor Giuliani in New York, how drugs, among other factors, combined to make a very difficult security situation. This happened in Los Angeles when the street gangs also moved drugs; it happened in Miami. But the fight against it was successful. [Americans] have suffered violence in their territory from drug trafficking. Well, now it is happening to us, but in much higher rates. Never in Central America, particularly in the northern triangle and in Honduras has there been so much loss of life as in this decade. Never. Never in history. And look, disgracefully, this is a not an issue that originates in Honduras.

If in the United States, there is a move to change the law to deport a minor without a court hearing would you oppose it?

I would like to ask congressmen and senators and those who make political decisions in the United States that they think first in the interest of the child, because the child as well being a human being, is more vulnerable than the adult. But also they [children] go with the very human, very natural desire to be with their parents. . . .

On the other side, if there is a child without a family member in the United States, and the law says they have to return, we are working with this. Like never before in Honduras, we are investing resources to warmly receive our countrymen, with psychologists, doctors, giving them different options that we have for job opportunities, or farming financing. We are also guiding them spiritually, because they are families that are destroyed inside. They sold everything before leaving, and they arrive frustrated. We have to reintegrate them. We are making this effort.

What has the U.S. government said to you about the issue of migration? Have they told you they are going to deport many more people?

Yes, they have said they want to send them on a massive scale. We told them that number one, we have to respect the principle of giving priority to the child. Two, in the case that a family has children that don’t have relatives in the United States, that they don’t deport them along with adults that have committed crimes there. We don’t want them to be mixed. They [U.S. officials] have understood that part, and we, knowing there are large quantities, more than usual, have had to prepare ourselves to receive our countrymen.

Are you optimistic this is the start of something better, or will it be a long, dark difficult time ahead?

It is a difficult situation. It is a humanitarian crisis that the world needs to see. How long will it last? Will it get more complicated? This depends on support from countries such as the United States and Mexico. In Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras we are working hard.

If they help us, because this is a problem they generate, I repeat, because of the connection between the drugs they consume in enormous quantities in the United States that are produced in the south and pass through Central America, generating violence, generating this migratory flow—if they help us I am sure we will be on the route to resolves this in a short time.

TIME Immigration

Democrat To Obama: You Must Hear the Stories of Child Migrants

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.)
Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., speaks during a news conference on Feb. 6, 2014. Tom Williams—CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

At a meeting Wednesday, the President was sympathetic, but non-committal on Democratic plans to deal with the border crisis.

On Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Ben Ray Luján, a Democrat from New Mexico, tried to bring the human face of the ongoing border crisis alive to President Barack Obama in a meeting at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building near the White House, according to two Congressmen present.

“To not hear these stories is to make these kids disappear,” Luján says he told the President and the beginning of the meeting. He then cited the Pope’s call for action on the immigration crisis earlier this week, and recounted three news reports of kidnapped, beaten and killed children and journalists.

Luján also told a story of his own, one he says was shared with him by two nuns who worked with unaccompanied migrant children at Catholic Charities in Honduras. The nuns told Luján a child was being recruited by one of the local gangs there when the parents intervened, the Congressman recounted. “[The gang] not only killed the child, they killed the parents,” Luján said. “They left them on display for everyone to see.”

The President, who has not visited the border, reacted sympathetically to Luján’s stories, according to Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), who was at the meeting as a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which had requested time with the president.

“The horror of what is going on—you could just feel it in the room,” said Sanchez. “[The President] said, ‘Look as a father I understand that completely. Those children’s lives are no less valuable than my own.’”

The President, however, did not back down from his insistence that Congress make changes to a 2008 law that would allow for a speedier deportation of children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The Administration estimates that the Administration will apprehend as many as 90,000 unaccompanied minors at the border by the end of September. The White House did not respond for comment for this story.

The Hispanic Caucus, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi support an approach where the President would use his current authority—and $3.7 billion—to address the crisis. The Democrats argue that the most humane response would be to quicken the current backlog of immigration cases through hiring more judges and adjusting current policy that would prioritize the children’s cases.

“We don’t want to see a child return to the hands of sex traffickers because we were in a hurry to deal with the humanitarian crisis at the border,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) tells TIME. “I think [Obama] understands that. And as a caucus we have come to the position that we won’t vote for an appropriation bill…that undermines what children have.”

Republicans have argued that the 2008 law—the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Action Act—needs to be changed to allow Border Patrol agents greater authority to screen and deport Central American children. Under the law, the Border Patrol is supposed to transfer these children within 72 hours to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services until their immigration cases are decided. House Speaker John Boehner and others have also argued for increased border security, including sending in the National Guard.

Boehner indicated Thursday that the prospects of Republicans and Democrats forging an agreement by the end of July has taken a turn for the worse as Democrats have established their position on the 2008 law.

“I can’t imagine our members are going to want to send more money down there without attempting to mitigate the problem at the border,” said Boehner. “I don’t have as much optimism as I’d like to have.”

Additional reporting by Zeke Miller/Washington

TIME 2016 Election

McCain to GOP: If You Want to Beat Hillary, Pass Immigration Reform

Senate Clears U.S. Debt-Limit Suspension For Obama's Signature
Senator John McCain speaks to the media after leaving the Senate floor in Washington on Feb. 12, 2014. Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images

'We are marginalizing the Republican Party'

Arizona Sen. John McCain said Thursday that he believes Republicans can defeat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016, but only if they pass immigration reform.

“She’s the odds-on favorite right now,” McCain said of Clinton at the “Politics on Tap” event hosted by CNN and National Journal. “But I think we have a long list of people who could defeat Hillary Clinton.” McCain suggested New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich by name as potential Clinton vanquishers. “We’ve got some very successful governors that have done very well in their states that I think once exposed to the American people could be very competitive.”

McCain noted that Clinton’s poll numbers have dropped over the recent controversy over her wealth and her speaking fees, but said that could all be for naught if the Republican Party doesn’t enact immigration reform.

“I expect it to be very competitive,” McCain said, “except if we don’t enact some kind of comprehensive immigration reform, I do not see a way for us to really win a general election.”

Pressed on the lingering House Republican opposition to taking up immigration reform, McCain said he will continue to “hope and pray and work” to make them reconsider.

Passing immigration reform was the sole policy recommendation of the 2013 Republican Party autopsy into its 2012 rout, but the House Republican conference has repeatedly blocked any action on the measure since the Senate passed a reform bill last year.

“Hopefully my colleagues in the House will realize the same demographics that I am referring to and that they will at least in some way bring up immigration reform, whether it’s piecemeal, whether it’s one-at-a-time,” he said. “I think as the 2016 campaign gets closer that my colleagues will recognize … that we are marginalizing the Republican Party,” McCain added.

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