The influx of tens of thousands of child migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months has sparked a new flame war between President Barack Obama and Republicans with undertones of the rancorous debate over immigration reform.
Republicans have steadily demanded that the president take action to stem the tide of undocumented children, most of whom are fleeing horrific violence in Central America and are being apprehended at the Southern border. The minors (and in some cases adults) are being processed by the immigration system where they have a chance to pursue asylum, but the White House says most probably won’t qualify and will be sent home.
But the recent surge has overwhelmed U.S. officials and facilities which lack the resources to deal with the migrants in a timely manner. And so, on Wednesday during his trip to Texas, Obama met with Gov. Rick Perry (R) and later demanded that Congress pass his new funding request of $3.7 billion to help defuse the escalating crisis in a speedy manner.
“There’s a very simple question here, and that is Congress just needs to pass the supplemental,” Obama said during a televised news conference. Issuing a challenge to Republicans, he said, “The question is are we more interested in politics, or are we more interested in solving the problem?”
That puts Republicans in a bind. They resent the idea of giving the Obama administration billions of dollars more to spend. But if they block his request they risk being blamed for blocking swift action on the border crisis.
Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has been cold to the president’s request, saying the House won’t give Obama a “blank check” and insisted he take responsibility for the crisis. “He’s been president for five and a half years. When’s he going to take responsibility for something?” a furious Boehner said Thursday.
The Speaker has set up a working group of seven House Republicans, led by Texas Rep. Kay Granger, to propose ways to ease the crisis. In a statement Wednesday the group was noncommittal about Obama’s supplemental request. It said it would consider legislation but suggested he resolve the matter administratively.
“The policies of the current Administration have created the crisis we are currently facing at our southern border and it will take Presidential action to solve it,” the lawmakers said.
Republicans are weighing funding for the border crisis with potential policy add-ons. One option they’re considering is to amend a bipartisan anti-trafficking law enacted in 2008 that protects minors coming to the U.S. alone from places other than Mexico or Canada. The law makes it harder for officials to send the children back home quickly. Democratic leaders don’t love the idea of altering that law but haven’t ruled out the possibility.
“I would hope that they would not have make that change, but it’s not a deal breaker,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said on Thursday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) indicated to reporters on Thursday he’ll see what the House does and take it from there.
Meanwhile, the White House is running ads in Central America to dispel false rumors that children who come to the U.S. illegally will be allowed to stay, White House aide Cecilia Muñoz said Thursday.
The president emphasized that the ball is in the Republican-led House’s court. He jabbed at them for blocking action on comprehensive immigration reform, which he said would have added thousands of border patrol agents and potentially prevented the minors crisis. But he said Congress should at least pass the new supplemental to address the more immediate border problem.
“Governor Perry — he suggested, well, maybe you just need to go ahead and act, and that might convince Republicans that they should go ahead and pass the supplemental,” Obama said during Wednesday’s speech in Texas. “And I had to remind him I’m getting sued right now by Mr. Boehner, apparently, for going ahead and acting instead of going through Congress. Well, here’s a good test case.”