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Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. The issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.

Central American migrants continue to arrive at the south Texas border, overwhelming U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities there and diverting agents from patrols.

Texas Governor Rick Perry has ordered up to a thousand National Guard troops to the border to help prevent illegal activity.

"Drug cartels, human traffickers, individual criminals are exploiting this tragedy for their own criminal opportunities," said Perry.

Although Perry said the troops' presence would deter many lawbreakers, law enforcement officials in the border area are skeptical, since the National Guard lacks the authority to arrest or detain people.

But Tony Payan, director of the Mexico Center at Rice University's Baker Institute, said Perry's plan might discourage people from crossing the border.

"This impact that 1,000 National Guard members may have is if you deployed them in a specific area that is seeing a lot of traffic, because they may be able to stem the tide. So, in some sense, it is not altogether in vain," said Payan.

But Payan said an overall reform of the U.S. immigration system is needed to resolve this crisis.

"In the end, it is not new, it has always been there and it is only one small bit of a larger problem, which only Congress and the president can resolve," he said.

But that resolution is on hold for now, as the Obama administration seeks $3.7 billion from Congress to deal with the Central American influx, which U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said is quickly depleting funds.

"At our current burn rate within the Department of Homeland Security, ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement will run out of money by mid-August; Customs and Border Patrol will run out by mid-September," he said.

But many Republican lawmakers, like Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, are reluctant to approve the request.

"Will this request be the end or will it be the beginning of many new requests by the administration for emergency funding?" asked Shelby.

Payan said enforcement efforts alone will not be effective. "This is really a transnational problem that requires that the U.S., Mexico and the three Central American nations in the northern triangle of that section of the continent sit down and find development solutions, long-term solutions to this problem."

President Barack Obama met with the presidents of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala last week. They all pledged cooperation and agreed much more needs to be done to address the fundamental reasons for the migration.

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