Dallas (AFP) – U.S. President Barack Obama warned parents in Central America not to send their children alone on the perilous journey through Mexico to illegally cross the U.S. border.
Obama also urged Congress to stop playing politics and work with him to pass his request for $3.7 billion in emergency funding to deal with the building immigration crisis.
“Parents need to know this is an incredibly dangerous situation and it is unlikely that their children will be able to stay,” Obama said, referring to a flow of 57,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America who have crossed the southwestern U.S. frontier since October in the search for a better life. Often they are smuggled across.
“I’ve asked parents across Central America not to put their children in harm’s way in this fashion.”
Obama was speaking in Dallas, after meeting Texas’s Republican Governor Rick Perry, local officials and faith leaders to discuss the border drama, which has developed into a toxic political showdown.
He demanded that lawmakers quickly pass the emergency funding bill to tighten border surveillance and enforcement and to rush customs and legal resources to the area to speed up deportations of illegal immigrants, and to consider asylum cases.
“Are folks more interested in politics, or are they more interested in solving the problem?” Obama asked.
“If the preference is for politics, then it won’t be solved.”
The president’s request for more money has met a stiff response from Republicans in Congress, who say that his plan is more geared to dealing with illegal minors already in the country rather than stopping the flow of new illegal entries.
Perry had demanded Obama visit the border and initially declined to greet the president as he stepped off Air Force One in Texas on a visit that includes several political fundraiser events.
But after a hurried exchange of letters between Texas and Washington, the two men agreed to hold a roundtable on the pressing immigration problem. Perry even rode with Obama aboard his Marine One helicopter to the talks in Dallas.
Perry, a failed 2012 Republican presidential election candidate, spelled out the Republican approach to the border crisis, which is based on claims that Obama has failed to protect the U.S. frontier.
“There is a humanitarian crisis unfolding that has been created by bad public policy, in particular the failure to secure the border,” Perry said in a statement.
“Securing the border is attainable, and the president needs to commit the resources necessary to get this done.”
Republicans see securing the border as sending more men, including National Guard reserve troops, to protect it.
Obama says the problem is not that people are evading U.S. security forces, but insufficient infrastructure to process them when they arrive.
Obama said the meeting with Perry was useful, adding that he had pushed the governor to press Republicans in Congress to pass the supplemental funding request.
The president also responded to fierce Republican pressure for him to visit the border himself — saying that his administration had sent senior officials on multiple visits to the region in recent days.
“This isn’t theater. This is a problem. I’m not interested in photo-ops,” Obama said.
The president also rebuffed suggestions that his use of executive powers to shield from deportation young people brought to the United States as children by illegal immigrant parents had encouraged the flow of children across the border.
“We have countries that are pretty close to us in which the life chances of children are just far, far worse than they are here,” Obama said.
But Texas Senator John Cornyn was unimpressed.
“Texans do not need a lecture from a man who refuses to even see the crisis firsthand,” he seethed.
The White House earlier praised Mexico, which this week announced the opening of five new border control centers along its frontier with Guatemala.
Vice President Joe Biden, who traveled to Central America on a crisis mission last month, called Guatemalan President Otto Perez, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, and Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren to discuss how to stem the flow of child migrants fleeing violence and persecution.
A first congressional hearing on the emergency request will take place on Thursday before the Senate Appropriations Committee, at which Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who has been touring Central America, is scheduled to testify.
AFP Photo/Jewel Samad