He accused Congress of playing politics with immigration crisis.
DALLAS – President 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 on Congress to quickly approve $3.7 billion to bolster enforcement efforts along the border with Mexico, accusing his Republican critics of talking tough about immigration while allowing election-year politics to block rapid approval of the spending that would back the talk up with real action.
“Is Congress prepared to act to put the resources in place to get this done?” Obama said. “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.”
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,” Obama said.
Obama’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 the president and his Republican adversaries on a broader immigration overhaul.
The president’s remarks followed a brief meeting with Gov. Rick Perry of Texas ahead of a round-table discussion on the border issue with local officials and religious leaders. Perry, who is considered a potential presidential candidate in 2016, has emerged as one of the president’s loudest critics, accusing the administration of repeatedly ignoring the problems at the border.
After the meeting, Obama said he told Perry that passage of the $3.7 billion in funding he requested this week would help address the governor’s concerns about putting more patrol agents on the border and speeding the processing of deportation cases.
The president rejected the intense criticism from Perry and other Republicans that he did not visit the border while he was in Texas for 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.”
Perry said that “there is a humanitarian crisis unfolding that has been created by bad public policy, in particular the failure to secure the border.”
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.
In Washington, congressional Republicans expressed frustration and skepticism, and members of 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 that “the children continue to come across the border” despite the government’s best efforts.
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 Obama $3.7 billion that would help bail him out of a situation they believe is of his own making.
“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.”