HOUSTON - President Barack Obama flew to Dallas, Texas, Wednesday and met with Governor Rick Perry as well as members of faith-based groups who are providing humanitarian aid to child immigrants on the state's border with Mexico. The president rejected criticism from various corners that he had not included a stop at the border while in Texas and urged Congress to provide the funds needed to deal with the recent surge in illegal immigration.
Obama arrived in Texas at a time when Republicans in Congress and even some members of his own party, the Democrats, have been urging him to visit the Mexican border. In recent months the Texas border has been overrun by tens of thousands of immigrants from Central America, many of them children.
The president rejected a personal visit to the border as "a photo op" and said officials from his administration have made numerous trips there and have already assessed the situation and know what needs to be done.
"Those who say I should visit the border, when you ask them what I should be doing, they are giving us suggestions that are embodied in legislation that I already send to Congress," he said.
The supplemental bill the president sent to Congress seeks $3.7 billion in emergency funds for detention centers, more judges to expedite the return of immigrants with no legitimate claim for refugee status and enhanced border enforcement.
But critics, like Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn, have insisted they will not act on the request until the president goes to the border.
"Only then, I believe, will he be ready and will we be ready to sit down and work together through this request the president has sent us and figure out how we can solve the problem," Cornyn said.
During his meeting with Governor Rick Perry, also a Republican and a possible candidate for his party's presidential nomination in 2016, Obama said he basically agreed with all the concerns raised by the governor. He said the solutions would be provided if Congress would pass the request for additional funding, adding that he asked the governor to use his influence with the Texas delegation to get the supplemental request passed quickly.
"Another way of putting it, and I said this directly to the governor, is 'are folks more interested in politics or are they interested in solving the problem?' If they are interested in solving the problem, then this can be solved. If the preference is for politics, then it won't be solved," he said.
In recent comments, Governor Perry has suggested that the president has deliberately allowed the crisis on the border to grow for political purposes. But the comprehensive immigration reform the president favors has been stalled in Congress partly because of the current problem. The president and other supporters of the legislation say the reform would help prevent the kind of influx that has occurred over the last several months.
Skeptics, however, say the surge in immigration from Central America has been influenced by the perception that the United States is softening its immigration enforcement and a false rumor that U.S. Border Patrol agents would give immediate asylum to any child crossing the border.
But Obama administration officials, as well as independent observers in Central America, say poverty and fear of violence from drug gangs has driven many parents to send their children north to seek safety. President Obama has sent Vice President Joe Biden and other officials to Central America to discuss ways of addressing the problem at its source.
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