WASHINGTON — President Obama faces mounting calls from Republicans to take a firsthand look at the immigration emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border, putting him on the spot concerning what he has called the “humanitarian crisis” of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children flooding in from Central America.
“If he doesn’t come to the border, I think it’s a real reflection of his lack of concern of what’s really going on there,” declared Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016.
The White House said Thursday that Obama currently has no plans to visit the border when he travels to Texas next week, primarily to fund-raise for Democratic congressional candidates. A trip to the border could result in awkward optics for the president, who would be unlikely to meet with youngsters he’s seeking to deport and would risk upsetting immigration advocates who oppose the deportations if he were to meet with border patrol agents or other law enforcement.
Administration officials say Perry and other Republicans are merely trying to score political points rather than working to resolve a major problem. But the political concerns aren’t so easily dismissed for Obama.
The border crisis has put him in the difficult position of asking Congress for more money and authority to send the children back home at the same time he’s seeking ways to allow millions of other people already in the United States illegally to stay.
The White House also wants to keep the focus of the debate in this midterm election year on Republican lawmakers whom the president has accused of blocking progress on a comprehensive overhaul of America’s immigration laws. Obama announced this week that, due to a lack of progress on Capitol Hill, he was moving forward to seek ways to adjust U.S. immigration policy without congressional approval.
Obama’s options for that range from relatively modest changes in deportation procedures to broader moves that could shield millions of people in the United States illegally from deportation while giving them temporary authorization to work here.
Immigration advocates emerged from a meeting with Obama this week convinced that the president was at least considering the more aggressive approach.
“He’s totally flipped from doing everything possible to give Republicans the space to get to ‘yes’ to doing everything possible to cement the reputation of the GOP as anti-immigrant and to bolster the Democratic Party’s image as the party that’s for them,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a leading advocacy group.
The advocates are pushing Obama to provide work permits to the up to 9 million people who would have been eligible for citizenship under a comprehensive immigration bill passed by the Senate a year ago that stalled in the Republican-led House.
Short of that, advocates want Obama to extend a “deferred action” program to all immigrants in the United States illegally who have children who are American citizens because they were born in the United States. That program currently allows many young immigrants who arrived in the United States as children before June 15, 2007, to apply for work permits and two-year reprieves from deportation.
Those proposals stand in stark contrast to the Obama administration’s response to the influx of unaccompanied minors showing up at the border. The president has asked Congress for $2 billion in emergency spending to hire more immigration judges and open more detention facilities. He’s also seeking the flexibility to speed up the youths’ deportations.
Republicans have sought to draw a link between the current crisis and Obama’s desire to use executive powers to change immigration laws.