The sudden wave of unaccompanied minors crossing the border into the United States triggered a summit with Central American leaders on Friday.
Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Guatemala, meeting with President Otto Pérez Molina, El Salvador's President Salvador Sánchez Cerén and senior representatives from Honduras and Mexico. The goal is to address causes of the migration surge and develop proposals to thwart it.
Earlier this month, President Barack Obama declared that the spike in children flooding overwhelmed U.S. immigration centers is an “urgent humanitarian situation” and called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate a response.
When children cross into the U.S. without their parents, they become wards of the state and their deportation procedures become much longer and more complicated.
The Department of Justice partnered with AmeriCorps to bring on extra lawyers for processing the backlog, but as DOJ lawyers trickle in, federal and state resources are being strained to the breaking point.
Emergency shelters have been opened on military bases in California, Oklahoma and Texas. The impacts are also being felt in facilities as far away from the southern border as Virginia and New York.
"We know we must do something to stem this tide," U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said.
Extreme poverty and gang-related violence in their home countries are among the main reasons young children flee to the States. Three out of four children arriving are from Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador.
"These people who come to the United States are very vunerable," said Andy Adame of the U.S. Border Patrol.
The issue has become another flashpoint in the national immigration debate, which has recently devolved into finger pointing.
Democrats say Republicans are blocking reform. Republicans say the Obama administration is too soft on enforcement.
Just on Thursday, Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, R-Ohio, said, “The administration's actions have only served to encourage more illegal crossings. It's another situation that appears to have caught the administration flat-footed.”
Child immigration is not new, but it’s clearly getting worse. Three years ago, 6,000 children crossed the border without an adult. This year, that number is projected to be more than 10 times higher. Forty-seven thousand children have been picked up along the southern border since October, a 92 percent rise from the previous year.
What's behind the surge in young migrants?
How can the U.S. stop it — or at least slow it down?
What happens to these children once they become the responsibility of the United States government?
We consulted a panel of experts for the Inside Story.