Obama on Border-Crisis Fix: ‘This Can Get Done Next Week’

The president on Wednesday urged Texas leaders and Congress to quickly approve a $3.7 billion plan for border security.

  Four-year-old Heather Pia Ledezma, who is from Mexico, joins immigration reform protesters at a rally July 7 in Washington, D.C. Participants condemned President Obama's response to the border crisis.    
National Journal
Marina Koren and Brian Resnick
Marina Koren Brian Resnick
July 9, 2014, 3:20 p.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama called on con­gres­sion­al lead­ers Wed­nes­day night to quickly pass an emer­gency meas­ure that would ease the bor­der crisis, where tens of thou­sands of un­ac­com­pan­ied minors have cre­ated a lo­g­jam.

Speak­ing from Dal­las, the pres­id­ent called on Con­gress to ap­prove a $3.7 bil­lion plan an­nounced Tues­day that would con­front the in­flux of un­ac­com­pan­ied minors from Cent­ral Amer­ica at the Texas bor­der.

“If the Texas del­eg­a­tion is now pre­pared to move,” Obama said, “this thing can get done next week.”

The money would go to­ward new de­ten­tion fa­cil­it­ies, more im­mig­ra­tion judges and Bor­der Patrol per­son­nel, and in­creased aer­i­al sur­veil­lance in the re­gion. “About half of the re­sources would go to bor­der se­cur­ity,” Obama said Wed­nes­day. The oth­er half would be for re­sources to help the chil­dren.

Per a law passed un­an­im­ously by the House and Sen­ate in 2008, Bor­der Patrol agents must place un­ac­com­pan­ied minors from non­con­tigu­ous coun­tries un­der the care of the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment with­in 72 hours of their de­tain­ment. The sup­ple­ment­al meas­ure would speed up the pro­cess.

“While we in­tend to do the right thing by these chil­dren, their par­ents need to know that this is an in­cred­ibly dan­ger­ous situ­ation,” Obama said. “And it is un­likely that their chil­dren will be able to stay.”

The pres­id­ent is in Texas this week to raise money for Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates in the state. His de­cision not to vis­it the bor­der dur­ing the trip has drawn cri­ti­cism from people on both the right and left who say his ad­min­is­tra­tion has been too pass­ive in its re­sponse to the crisis.

“I’m not in­ter­ested in photo ops, I’m in­ter­ested in solv­ing the prob­lem,” Obama said when asked about why he was not plan­ning on ac­tu­ally vis­it­ing the bor­der.

Re­pub­lic­an law­makers have ex­pressed some sup­port for in­creased law en­force­ment along the bor­der, but are skep­tic­al of the White House plan. Part of the skep­ti­cism arises from what Re­pub­lic­ans con­sider a lack of trust with the White House on im­mig­ra­tion policy.

Obama said he doesn’t want this tem­por­ary im­mig­ra­tion fix to fall down a par­tis­an hole. “If I sponsored a bill de­clar­ing apple pie Amer­ic­an, it might fall vic­tim to par­tis­an polit­ics. I get that,” he said. “On the oth­er hand this is an is­sue in which my Re­pub­lic­an friends have said it’s ur­gent, that we need to fix it.”

The pres­id­ent met with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has been crit­ic­al of Obama’s re­sponse, be­fore the re­marks. And the pres­id­ent said he agreed with sev­er­al of the gov­ernor’s re­com­mend­a­tions. “He was con­cerned about how many patrol agents were dir­ectly at the bor­der,” Obama said. “He was con­cerned that some of the po­s­i­tion­ing of Bor­der Patrol agents is too far from bor­der to be ef­fect­ive in de­ter­ring folks from com­ing in as op­posed to simply ap­pre­hend­ing them. I in­dic­ated to him that what he said soun­ded like it made sense.”

White House press sec­ret­ary Josh Earn­est said Wed­nes­day that in ad­di­tion to in­creased bor­der con­trol, the ad­min­is­tra­tion is fo­cused on re­du­cing the back­log of minors un­der HHS care. The prob­lem that is “most acute right now,” Earn­est told re­port­ers, “is less about the num­ber of Bor­der Patrol of­ficers and more about the kinds of im­mig­ra­tion judges and ICE pro­sec­utors and oth­ers who can pro­cess the cases.”

Obama elab­or­ated Wed­nes­day night: “The is­sue is not that people are evad­ing our en­force­ment of­fi­cials,” he said. “The is­sue is that we’re ap­pre­hend­ing them in large num­bers — and we’re work­ing to make sure that we have suf­fi­cient fa­cil­it­ies to de­tain, house, and pro­cess them ap­pro­pri­ately.”

In 2012, there were just 5,200 un­ac­com­pan­ied chil­dren at the bor­der. That num­ber is now at least 52,000 and is pro­jec­ted to swell to 90,000 by year’s end. The ma­jor­ity of minors are from three troubled Cent­ral Amer­ic­an coun­tries — El Sal­vador, Hon­dur­as, and Guatem­ala — which are fa­cing ex­treme levels of vi­ol­ence.

The United Na­tions High Com­mis­sion on Refugees re­leased a state­ment Wed­nes­day ur­ging “all coun­tries in the re­gion to ad­opt a ro­bust hu­man­it­ari­an re­sponse that is based on fun­da­ment­al pro­tec­tion prin­ciples,” which may in­clude grant­ing asylum to chil­dren who meet in­ter­na­tion­al pro­tec­tion con­cerns. A U.N. study con­duc­ted earli­er this year found that, in a sample of 404 chil­dren, 58 per­cent raised such con­cerns.

Obama said Wed­nes­day that Perry ad­vised the pres­id­ent to act quickly, and that strong lead­er­ship “might con­vince Re­pub­lic­ans that they should go ahead and pass the sup­ple­ment­al.” “And I had to re­mind him, I’m get­ting sued right now by [House Speak­er John Boehner] ap­par­ently for go­ing ahead and act­ing in­stead of go­ing through Con­gress,” Obama said. “Well, here’s a good test case.”

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