Americans believe immigration is one of the country’s top problems for the first time since 2006, according to a new poll, as tens of thousands of undocumented immigrant children continue to cross the border.
Seventeen percent of respondents cited immigration as the country’s top issue, a Gallup poll released Wednesday found. In June, just 5% cited immigration as the most pressing concern.
More than 50,000 undocumented children have crossed the United States’ southwestern border since October, creating a humanitarian crisis and a vexing political problem for the Obama administration. Officials expect as many as 90,000 children could enter the country by the end of this year from Central America to flee violence and instability.
Dissatisfaction with the federal government is about tied with immigration as the country’s biggest problem, the survey found. Concern over immigration was higher among Republicans – 23% – than with Democrats, 11%, according to the poll, which was conducted among 1,013 adults between July 7 and 10. The margin of error was +/- 4 percentage points.
Some Republican lawmakers have recently sounded alarms about the influx of undocumented immigrants. Georgia Republican Rep. Phil Gingrey, a longtime physician, wrote a letter last week to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about his fear that the children might introduce Americans to the deadly Ebola virus. The condition has only been found in humans living in sub-Saharan Africa. Gingrey defended the letter Tuesday, telling NBC News that “the border patrol gave us a list of the diseases that they’re concerned about, and Ebola was one of those.”
More than 10 organizations that oppose illegal immigration plan to stage at least 260 demonstrations in almost every U.S. state on Friday and Saturday. Protesters will appear on road overpasses, outside of state capitals and in front of the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C., Paul Arnold, director of Make Them Listen, told msnbc.
On the other side of the issue, human rights and immigration groups have issued strong calls against the deportation of the kids, citing the often dangerous situations in their home countries. The Evangelical Clergy Lead Delegation of Faith Leaders (NaLEC) on Wednesday advocated for leaders in the Central American countries and the United States to work together to ensure the children are treated humanely. Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of NaLEC, expressed the coalition’s commitment to providing spiritual care to the children while they are detained.
Meanwhile, the White House continues to search for ways to expedite the deportation process for individuals who do not qualify for asylum in the United States.
It has been more than a week since President Barack Obama requested nearly $4 billion in emergency funding from Congress to address the crisis. But lawmakers have yet to pass a measure to deal with the thousands of children who have crossed the border. Republicans have countered by saying Congress won’t give Obama a “blank check.”
“[Republicans] keep attacking the president for not solving it. That’s just typical Washington that people are rejecting. There is a crisis, there are solutions out there, and we need both sides to work together to get to those solutions,” New York Democratic Rep. Steve Israel, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Wednesday on ”Andrea Mitchell Reports.”
“Why won’t [House Speaker] John Boehner even allow a vote on this solution?” he added, ahead of Democrats’ meeting with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to discuss immigration.
Still, officials deported a group of Honduran children Monday in the first flight since Obama promised to speed up the process of returning the kids to their home countries. Many of the children entering the United States are fleeing from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
Federal facilities have been overwhelmed by the flood of undocumented immigrants. As a result, some of the undocumented kids have been moved from facilities near the border to other parts of the country. Officials in Virginia, for instance, plan to search for undocumented kids who were possibly transferred to facilities in Prince William County.
“They should be sent back home,” Board Supervisor Chairman Corey Stewart told NBC News. “And the reason they should be sent back home is to send the message that if you make that journey to the United States, you’re just going to be sent back home.”
Border Patrol detained Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas on Tuesday in perhaps the most high-profile apprehension near the border so far. Vargas, an undocumented immigrant and activist, was later released.