President Obama on Wednesday asked for Congress to give him “flexibility” to deport illegal immigrants from Central America more quickly, saying the solution to the surge of families and children trying to jump the border now lies with Congress, not him.
On a trip to Texas Wednesday, he again argued there was no need for him to visit the border himself to see the problem firsthand, saying his aides are giving him enough information. And he accused those who are pressing him for a personal visit of trying to politicize the issue.
He also said he would be “happy to consider” deploying the National Guard to the border to help out if it could earn the support of some Republicans for his new $3.7 billion supplemental spending request for 2014, which he submitted earlier this week. But the president said Congress must act either way.
“This should not be hard to at least get the supplemental done. The question is, are we more interested in politics, or are we more interested in solving the problem?” Mr. Obama said in Dallas, several hundred miles from the border, where he had traveled to raise money for Democrats ahead of November’s elections.
He did carve out time for a meeting with Texas Gov. Rick Perry and others, and emerged to say he and the Republican governor — who had pleaded for a border visit — were actually in agreement on the steps that need to be taken.
“Five hundred miles south of here, in the Rio Grande Valley, there is a humanitarian crisis unfolding that has been created by bad public policy, in particular the failure to secure the border,” Mr. Perry said in his own statement after the meeting. “Securing the border is attainable, and the president needs to commit the resources necessary to get this done.”
The president has struggled to get a handle on the surge of children and families, and his administration has acknowledged a number of problems as it tries to fight the flood coming from Central American nations.
Testifying to Congress earlier in the day, administration officials said only about half of all juveniles show up for their deportation hearings in the U.S., meaning the rest of them disappear into the shadows with the more than 11 million illegal immigrants already here. Months into the crisis, the government still doesn’t have a specific breakdown for unaccompanied minors specifically.
Mark H. Greenberg, acting assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, said the department has a policy that bans social workers from asking the legal status of parents who come to claim their children in the U.S. That means many of the children are turned over to illegal immigrants, who themselves have an incentive not to bring their children back for deportation hearings.
The proof of the problem is in the final numbers.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said of 20,805 unaccompanied minors from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who were caught at the border in 2013, only 1,669 were sent home — fewer than one in 10.
He said that message has gotten back to those countries and explains the increasing flow.
“If you were one of these children, and you were there in one of these countries, wouldn’t you think your odds are pretty good?” Mr. McCain fumed.
The Justice Department has said it will try to send more judges to the border to process the cases involving the children faster — though officials said that will take away from working on other cases in the interior of the U.S., which means other deportations may slow.