Immigration Overhaul Revving Up on Capitol Hill Despite Fewer Crossings

More people favor prioritizing border security, a new poll finds.

September 4, 2014, 4:27 PM
PHOTO: This June 25, 2014, file photo shows a group of immigrants from Honduras and El Salvador who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally as they are stopped in Granjeno, Texas.
This June 25, 2014, file photo shows a group of immigrants from Honduras and El Salvador who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally as they are stopped in Granjeno, Texas.
Eric Gay/AP Photo

— -- Immigration overhaul is expected to take front-and-center of the domestic debate when Congress returns to Capitol Hill next week.

Rumors also abound about exactly when President Obama might take executive action on the issue, while White House press secretary Josh Earnest this week offered no update on the timing.

“There’s a chance it could be before the end of the summer. There’s a chance it could be after the summer,” Earnest said at a press briefing. “The president’s determination to act and his commitment to acting have not changed in any way.”

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Earnest added that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder are in the midst of reviewing the options Obama has at his disposal to take action unilaterally.

Meanwhile, here’s where things stand on the issue.

Fewer Unaccompanied Minors Are Crossing the Border

Unaccompanied minors are crossing the border in far fewer numbers than they were just months ago. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) released its latest numbers Wednesday: between Oct. 1 and the end of August (fiscal year 2014) 66,127 unaccompanied minors (UAC) have crossed and been apprehended at the Southwest border (SWB). That is an 88 percent increase over the same time period last year, when 35,209 were apprehended.

• May – 341 daily UAC apprehensions SWB-wide (10,579 for May)

• June – 354 daily UAC apprehensions SWB-wide. (10,628 for June)

• July – 177 daily UAC apprehensions SWB-wide. (5,508 for July)

• August – 104 daily UAC apprehensions SWB-wide. (3,129 for August)

The decrease could be the result of any number of factors, including the campaign launched in Central America by the administration to dissuade people from taking the journey. But it could also be because of the weather. July and August are the hottest months.

More People Prioritize Border Security in Immigration Debate

A new survey out Wednesday by the Pew Research Center finds more people believe prioritizing border security is important.

The study, conducted Aug. 20-24, finds that 33 percent say the priority in the immigration debate should be on better border security and tougher enforcement of immigration laws. That is a change since the last time this survey was done in 2013, where only 25 percent thought border security was the priority.

The majority of those surveyed, 41 percent, believe both border security and creating a way for those already in the United States to become citizens should be equally prioritized, which is down from February 2013’s 47 percent. While those believing that enhanced border security and stronger enforcement of immigration laws should be given the priority have risen 8 points, from 25 percent to 33 percent since February 2013.

There are major differences in those priorities, however, when broken down by age.

According to the report, “36 percent of those under 30 say the priority should be on creating a way for people here illegally to become citizens, the highest share of any age group. Those 50 and older are more likely than those under 50 to emphasize better border security and stronger enforcement of immigration laws.”

When it comes to the unaccompanied children, 69 percent think the children should be able to join their families living in the United States while their cases are pending; 56 percent say they should be allowed to attend public schools.

Those Already Here Have Been for Quite a While

Another Pew report out Wednesday found that those living in the U.S. undocumented have been doing so for quite a while.

According to the report, more than 60 percent of the 11.3 million undocumented living in the United States as of March 2013 have been here for a decade or more, compared with only 35 percent in 2000; with 21 percent being here for two or more decades.

“Not very many new people are coming and the people who’ve been here awhile are not leaving,” Jeffrey Passel, senior demographer at Pew Research Center, told ABC News. “The structure of this unauthorized population is quite different from what it was five to six years ago and, certainly, 10 to 13 years ago.”

Passel says the population peaked in 2007 at around 12.2 million, but dropped significantly in the next two years because of a lack of jobs and an increase in enforcement at the southern border, and has remained steady ever since.

“There’s always some coming, and there’s some leaving, and some becoming legal, but the big factor is the much smaller number of new unauthorized immigrants coming into the country and big factor behind the drop in 2007 was the number leaving,” he said.

“The medium length of residence in the United States for those currently residing is 13 years,” Passel said. “When the numbers were growing so rapidly, the median duration was more like 7.5 years.”

According to the report, the numbers show “no sign of rising” and mean that “those who remain are more likely to be long-term residents.”

Of those living here, the report found about 4 million, or 38 percent of adults live with their U.S. born children.

“One of the consequences of this dynamic is that a lot of them have put down roots, there are, as we said almost 4-mill adults with US born children. About 3-millionl U.S. born children are under 18 and then another almost 700,000 are over 18,” Passel said. “The stereotype of the unauthorized immigrant population is the ‘single man,’ in reality almost half of the unauthorized immigrant adults are couples with children.”

With a topic sure to see a lot of political theater in the coming months, Passel adds that the data comes out at a time when facts matter and public opinion don’t always add up to the numbers.

“A lot of politics, and especially in the area of immigration, is not heavily influenced by data,” he said. “Basically, what we’ve seen is the population peaked in 2007, it dropped by a million and it hasn’t changed since then. The people who have studied this know that a big part of the reason is border security has been increased substantially, but a lot of that doesn’t get translated into public opinion.

“It’s useful to look at the trends here and see that this population is much less transient than it used to be, over 60 percent of the unauthorized adults have been here 10 years or more,” he added. “They are not brand new here.”

ABC News’ Chris Good contributed to this report.

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