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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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July 8th, 2014
04:44 PM ET

Border Democrat: This immigration crisis didn't just happen recently

(CNN) – The White House is still saying it does not plan to schedule a trip to the border while President Barack Obama visits Texas.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, whose district runs along the U.S.-Mexican border, says the President is one step behind on this issue.

"This just didn't happen last month," Cuellar said in an interview with CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper. "It started happening since last year, and maybe even before that. So the administration knew this was going up."

Pressed if Obama's policies have contributed to the border crisis, Cuellar says it's complicated, citing the violence and poverty of the Central American countries the unaccompanied minors are fleeing. But he singled out at least one policy that has contributed to the influx.

"I think one of the main things that's bringing this in, is the perception down there – because the smugglers have been telling them – that if you just get over to the border, and you have a child, you will get ... el permiso, the permit, and you're going to be let go," said Cuellar.

"That is what's happening right now because of that 2008 human trafficking act that says we treat contiguous countries, and non-contiguous countries very differently," said Cuellar.

The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 added protections for unaccompanied minors, especially those who were not from Canada or Mexico, entering the U.S. illegally.

The humanitarian crisis accompanying the border influx is gruesome. Last week, an 11-year-old boy, an undocumented immigrant, was found dead in Texas, near the border with Mexico. The cause of death was believed to be heat stroke. There have also been reports of sexual assault against the young, undocumented girls crossing the border.

Speaking with the first lady of Honduras, Cuellar said she told him: "Health and Human Services told us that about one third of them get raped on the way up here, just innocent little babies coming across."

"Think about the ones who never made it across. Think about the ones that the drug cartels, and smugglers decided to keep down there in Mexico," said Cuellar.

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