Rep. Gutierrez: 'What Is Driving the Children to the Border Is Violence'

By Susan Jones | June 10, 2014 | 8:08 AM EDT

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) (AP File Photo)

( - Congress should not use the current influx of unaccompanied minors as an excuse to avoid immigration reform, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Tuesday.

"What is driving the children to the border is violence -- the cartels and drugs," Gutierrez said. "The insatiable appetite that America has for drugs is causing much of the civil unrest" in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, he added later.

Gutierrez said the arrival of tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors -- 47,000 in the past eight months -- should be viewed as "a problem of the Americas."

"And what we should say is, it's our problem, in our borders. We put money in resettlement camps in Africa and throughout the world because we see the humanitarian crisis. These are children. First of all, we should depoliticize it from the immigration debate.

"On the other hand, some of these children are coming to be reunited with their parents. A small portion of them are being reunited. We can take care of that by doing immigration reform."

Like Gutierrez, the Obama administration on Monday blamed violence in Central America for the surge in children crossing into the U.S. The Rio Grande Valley is overwhelmed, and the federal government is now sheltering many of the children at retrofitted U.S. military bases.

But those administration officials -- speaking to reporters on a conference call -- also conceded that they are "conducting public messaging campaigns, some in Mexico, but certainly especially in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, to educate and inform individuals about the dangers of crossing, and ... making clear that migrants are not eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or as part of pending (immigration) legislation."

President Obama's deferred action (DACA) plan waives deportation for many foreign children who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents, but only if they arrived here before 2007.  

There's a lot of talk about the deferred action plan in Central America, administration officials admitted on Monday: "We understand that there is a lot of conversation in political circles about the immigration reform debate or policies like the DACA policy."

"But," they added, "it should be abundantly clear that neither the bill which passed the Senate last year, nor DACA, apply to these kids. They both have cut-off dates. You had to be in the country before a particular date in order to qualify for any kind of relief. So there is no relief available. These kids are coming and ending up in removal proceedings. And so we're making sure that that point is reinforced."