House Speaker John A. Boehner on Friday called on President Obama to deploy the National Guard to the border to help stem the surge of young illegal immigrant children that has overwhelmed the administration and distracted the Border Patrol from being able to guard against smugglers and other dangers.
"The National Guard is uniquely qualified to respond to such humanitarian crises. They are able to help deal with both the needs of these children and families as well as relieve the border patrol to focus on their primary duty of securing our border," Mr. Boehner said in a letter to Mr. Obama.
He also urged Mr. Obama to begin negotiations with El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala — the three countries responsible for most of the surge — on how to get them to accept their children back quickly.
Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, also demanded the U.S. pressure Mexico to do more on its southern border.
He becomes the highest-ranking member of the government to call for the National Guard to be deployed, and the move will likely put pressure on Mr. Obama as he tries to figure out how to manage the surge.
The administration has characterized it as a humanitarian crisis rather than an immigration crisis, and has spent most of its efforts trying to get a handle on how to care for the thousands of children who are now in its custody.
But Republicans argue Mr. Obama's own lax enforcement policies here in the U.S., combined with the difficulty of deporting illegal immigrants from countries other than Mexico, is contributing to the surge. They want to see him embrace stricter enforcement.
Democrats, though, have said putting troops on the U.S. side of the border is the wrong message to sent.
"To say we need to put more National Guardsmen on our border to greet children? Fleeing guns and violence, and then confronted with guns on the other side?" Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez said Thursday.
More than 90,000 unaccompanied minors — children traveling without their parents — are expected to be caught on the southwestern border this year, and more than 140,000 are expected next year.
Democrats have accused Republicans of using a humanitarian issue for political gain, and have said the situation with the children should be separated from the broader border security debate — though they said passing a bill legalizing illegal immigrants and creating new pathways for legal migration could help.
In another letter, top House GOP lawmakers told the Obama administration to scrap plans to move illegal immigrant children to the interior of the U.S., saying they should be kept as close to the border as possible and should be put through the fastest deportation proceedings possible.
The lawmakers also demanded that the families the children are sent to stay with should be deported if it's discovered they, too, are here illegally — a move that would be a direct challenge to President Obama's non-deportation policies.
"To end this dangerous migration, it is essential that the U.S. enforce our immigration laws and create effective and necessary deterrents so that potential illegal immigrants understand that their dream of reaching and being allowed to remain in the U.S. is unrealistic, and it is a virtual certainty they will be repatriated to their home countries," the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and five senior lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee wrote in their letter.
Presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett said Friday that Mr. Obama is concerned about the humanitarian proportions of the crisis. She said Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and White House domestic policy director Cecilia Munoz were touring immigration detention facilities on the U.S.-Mexican border Friday.
"They're fleeing their countries because of fear," Ms. Jarrett said of the surge of illegal immigrants. "That's why we're looking at this as a humanitarian effort. Part of what we need to do is to make sure they're safe in their own countries and don't look at their only refuge is to send, in many cases, their children unaccompanied by adults to our country."
Speaking to reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Ms. Jarrett said the administration is trying to inform Central Americans that people crossing the border now are not eligible for Mr. Obama's "deferred action" program on deportation, known as DACA.
"The people who are coming now cannot take advantage of DACA," she told reporters. "We have spent a lot of time communicating that, particularly in the Spanish press. So anything you can do to help us communicate that, if they're under that misperception, would be very helpful."
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