President Barack Obama pleaded with Congress to immediately pass an emergency funding request to deal with a flood of migrant children at the U.S. border and urged Texas Governor Rick Perry to pressure fellow Republicans to get it done.
The president sought cooperation today from an unlikely ally in Perry, a Republican and outspoken critic of Obama’s immigration policies who is a potential contender for his party’s presidential nomination in 2016. The two men held a face-to-face talk during a 15-minute helicopter ride and then together attended a meeting with state and local officials and religious groups dealing with the influx.
“The bottom line is there’s nothing the governor indicated he’d like to see that I have a philosophical objection to,” Obama said in Dallas. “If the Texas delegation is prepared to move, this thing can get done next week.”
Obama stopped in the city for the meeting on the border issue in between fundraisers for Democratic congressional candidates, illustrating the politically fraught situation facing the president and his party.
Under fire from Republicans for failing to secure the U.S.- Mexico border and pressure from Hispanics and immigrant advocacy groups for failing to win immigration legislation, the border crisis risks energizing Obama’s opponents and discouraging his supporters as Democrats try to hold their Senate majority in the November elections.
Perry, in a statement after his meeting with Obama, blamed “bad public policy” for the crisis unfolding at the border. Obama then sought to turn the tables by saying the governor could influence Republicans to vote for the solution he proposed.
“I suspect he has some influence on the Texas delegation and that would be helpful,” Obama said.
Obama described his conversation with Perry as “productive.” He rebuffed Perry’s request that he go to the Texas-Mexico border to see the situation for himself.
“This isn’t theater,” Obama said of making a border visit. “I’m not interested in photo ops. I’m interested in solving a problem.”
Perry also called on Obama to committing the resources necessary to secure the border, including deploying 1,000 more National Guard troops.
Obama said he would consider deploying the National Guard, “but that’s a temporary solution.” The only way to resolve it over the long term, he said, is for House Republicans to drop their opposition to comprehensive immigration legislation.
One of the participants in the roundtable discussion, Chris Liebrum, director of disaster recovery for the Texas Baptist Convention, said Obama and Perry spent their time in the meeting listening.
“There was some discussion about the need for reform, but most spoke about what they see as the immediate crisis,” Liebrum said, declining to give specifics.
After initially declining to greet Obama when he arrived in the state, Perry met Obama on the tarmac at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport today and joined the president on the helicopter ride into Dallas. Perry also participated the roundtable discussion with local leaders.
With political fundraising as the focus of Obama’s travels this week to Texas and Colorado, members of both parties warned that if Obama mishandles the immigration surge, it could help Republicans gain seats in the U.S. Senate in the November elections.
“If the president doesn’t address this problem pretty soon, it could be his political Waterloo,” said Steve Munisteri, chairman of the Texas Republican Party, in a telephone interview. Suggesting that the president is avoiding the border, Munisteri said, “he doesn’t want to acknowledge his political failure. If he goes down there, it gives publicity to his policy failures of several years.”
The more than 52,000 unaccompanied children who’ve arrived at the border so far this year are already double the total from fiscal 2013. Obama has made an emergency request of $3.7 billion from Congress to boost border security and temporarily house the children while they are processed for deportation.
Advocates for immigrants, who see little prospect of Congress passing legislation to address the undocumented migrants already in the U.S., are pressuring Obama to halt deportations.
Children at Risk
“Closing our borders is not a way to protect these children,” said Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network, in a phone interview from Washington. “If we close our borders or ship them back they’re going to just die.”
Carolan’s group is one of 200 that signed a letter to Obama, written by the National Immigration Law Center, that urged against rapidly exporting children who enter the U.S. illegally.
As part of the administration’s attempt to demonstrate action to stem the influx, Vice President Joe Biden spoke by telephone today with the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The White House said the conversations were a follow-up to Biden’s June 20 visit to the region, when he talked about aid to help the countries repatriate their citizens and address economic and security conditions that are helping drive migrants north.