Obama on border crisis: ‘This isn’t theater. This is a problem.’


McClatchy Washington Bureau

President Barack Obama called on Congress to approve his $3.7 billion request to address the growing number of unaccompanied children illegally crossing the southern border, but acknowledged that partisan politics are already hurting chances of the bill passing.

“Are folks more interested in politics or interested in solving a problem?” Obama asked in remarks late Wednesday. “If I sponsored a bill declaring apple pie American, it might fall victim to partisan politics.”

On Tuesday, Obama asked Congress for emergency funding for additional Border Patrol agents and judges, more detention facilities, an increase in the prosecution of smuggling networks and a media campaign to discourage parents from sending their children to the United States.

“There's a very simple question here,” Obama said. “Congress needs to just pass the supplemental.”

Obama spoke from Dallas after meeting with Republican Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, a frequent critic of the president on immigration, and state and local officials about border security.

Obama said after the meetings the two men did not disagree on the issue and that he asked Perry to speak the Texs congressional delegation about the emergency spending.

“What I emphasized to the governor is the problem here is not a major disagreement around the actions that could be helpful in dealing with the problem,” Obama said. “The challenge is: is Congress prepared to act to put the resources in place to get this done?”

Perry, Obama said, told him he should go ahead and act. “I had to remind him I'm getting sued by Speaker Boehner, apparently,” Obama said about a pending lawsuit by the speaker over his executive actions.

Obama says he will consider sending the National Guard to the border, as some lawmakers have called for, but that's only a temporary solution. “This is not a short-term problem,” he said. “This is a long-term problem.”

He said the United States needs to pass a rewrite of immigration laws that could help solve the problem for two decades as well as help other countries “get their act together” so parents don't want to send their kids.

Obama also warned parents not to send their children on the dangerous journey from Central America to the United States.

“We intend to do the right thing by these children, but their parents need to know…it is unlikely that their children will...stay,” he said.

Obama was in Texas raising money for Democrats. Lawmakers continued to criticize him for failing to visit the border.

“This isn’t theater. This is a problem. I'm not interested in photo ops,” Obama said when he was asked why he did not visit the border. “I'm interested in solving a problem.”

Obama had been to the border on a couple of previous occasions, as a candidate and as president, and Obama said he has sent Jeh Johnson, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, to the border five times. He will visit for a sixth time this week.

The number of unaccompanied children traveling from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, most through the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, has surged despite an increase in deportations. About 52,000 minors traveling without their parents have been caught at the Southwest border since October.

Obama announced last week that he’s also asking lawmakers to pass legislation to provide Jeh Johnson, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, with greater discretion to deport immigrants even from Central American countries.

In 2008, President George W. Bush signed a law that gave unaccompanied children from noncontiguous countries greater legal protections than those who arrive illegally from Mexico or Canada.

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