DALLAS — President Barack Obama vowed Wednesday after meeting with Texas officials to secure the state’s border with Mexico while treating the surge of Central American children with compassion.
The president called upon Congress to quickly approve $4 billion to bolster enforcement efforts along the border, accusing his Republican critics of talking tough about immigration while allowing election-year politics to block rapid approval of the spending that would back up the talk with real action.
“Is Congress prepared to act to put the resources in place to get this done?” Mr. Obama said here in Dallas. “Are folks more interested in politics, or are they interested in solving the problem? If the preference is for politics, then this won’t be solved.”
Mr. Obama promised to “do the right thing by these children.” But he also urged parents in Central America to stop sending their children into the United States, a trip he called especially dangerous. “It is unlikely that their children will be able to stay,” he said.
The president’s arrival in Texas, the state with the longest border with Mexico, focused attention on the emerging spike in migration from Central America as well as the political stalemate between Mr. Obama and his GOP adversaries on a broader immigration overhaul.
The president’s remarks followed a brief meeting with Texas‘ Republican Gov. Rick Perry ahead of a round-table discussion on the border issue with local officials and religious leaders. Mr. Perry, who is considered a potential presidential candidate again in 2016, has emerged as one of the president’s loudest critics, accusing the administration of repeatedly ignoring the problems at the border.
The governor, who had initially refused to stand for an Air Force One photo-op with the president, eventually did meet Mr. Obama on the tarmac in Dallas, and the pair shook hands and chatted as they walked to the Marine One helicopter for a brief ride to the site of the round-table discussion. After the meeting, Mr. Obama said he told Mr. Perry that passage of the almost $4 billion in funding he requested this week would help address the governor’s concerns about putting more patrol agents on the border and speedier processing of deportation cases.
The president rejected the intense criticism from Mr. Perry and other Republicans because he did not visit the border while he was in Texas for political fundraising. “This isn’t theater. This is a problem,” he told reporters after the meeting between the two leaders. “I’m not interested in photo-ops. I’m interested in solving a problem.”
Aides said the president had no plans to visit the Rio Grande Valley, the border region where more than 52,000 children have flooded into the United States in the last eight months.
Officials said Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole was in the border town of McAllen, Texas, on Wednesday to tour the Customs and Border Patrol facility there and to discuss the shift of some resources to the region. Aides also said Vice President Joe Biden had earlier discussed the issue with the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Mr. Perry is trying to overcome an image among some Republicans that he is too soft on immigration. His presidential campaign in 2012 failed in part because of criticism of his policies, such as tuition benefits for Latinos brought into Texas as children.
On Tuesday, before Mr. Obama left Washington, press secretary Josh Earnest said, “There should be a level at which we can agree that it’s important for this humanitarian situation to be addressed.” He dismissed Mr. Perry’s remarks that Mr. Obama had caused the crisis, saying, “I don’t think that any fair appraisal of the president’s record when it comes to border security would allow that criticism to withstand any scrutiny at all.”
Besides the president and governor, attendees at the meeting included Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings; County Judge Clay Jenkins, the chief county executive in Dallas; and U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democrat who represents the Dallas area. Three leaders of religious-based charities, four White House aides, the Texas director of public safety and the executive commissioner of the state’s Health and Human Services Commission were also there.
In Washington, congressional Republicans expressed both frustration and skepticism, and members of Mr. Obama’s administration told Congress that they were straining under what one called the “difficult and distressing” surge of unaccompanied minors across the border.
Testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said, “The children continue to come across the border,” despite the government’s best efforts. “It’s a very fluid situation,” he said.
Congressional Republicans are left with a dilemma. Their goals are to increase the federal presence on the border and address what they agree is a humanitarian crisis, but they do not want to accomplish them by giving Mr. Obama $3.7 billion that would help bail him out of a situation that they believe is of his own making. They also have doubts that the extra spending would help.
“What I do think this shows is another area where lack of leadership from this administration is coming back to haunt us,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., an outspoken advocate of an immigration overhaul. “The Obama doctrine is basically the ostrich doctrine, which is when something is happening, they put their head in the sand, they pretend it’s not happening, and they frankly lie about it, and that creates serious problems.”
At the root of the crisis is a 2008 law intended to curb human trafficking abuses. It requires officials to provide extra legal protections for migrants coming from countries that do not share a border with the United States. The unintended consequence has been to allow children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to overwhelm the immigration system.
Some Republicans have said that before they would vote in favor of Mr. Obama’s request, they would need to see the 2008 law amended or repealed to expedite the children’s return to their home countries. Some also said they wanted the relief spending to be matched by cuts in other areas.
Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said he was working with the state’s senior senator, Republican John Cornyn, to introduce legislation today that would amend the 2008 law to treat immigrants who enter the United States illegally from such countries by the same rules that currently apply to Mexico and Canada. The tweak, he said, would speed up deportations.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., was one several lawmakers at the congressional hearing Wednesday to call on the administration to send a strong message to Central American countries to keep their children at home. “Do not subject your children to rape and murder,” he said. “Don’t send them to the United States, because when they get here, they will not be allowed to stay.”United States - North America - United States government - Texas - Dallas - Central America - Latin America and Caribbean - Barack Obama - United States Congress - District of Columbia - U.S. Republican Party - United States Senate - Joe Biden - Texas state government - United States House of Representatives - Mexico - Josh Earnest - Rick Perry - John Cornyn - Ronald Johnson - Henry Cuellar - Mario Diaz-Balart - Craig Fugate - Jim Cole - Mike Rawlings - Eddie Johnson