Late Wednesday afternoon, as even Democrats were criticizing President Obama’s itinerary on a swing through Texas that doesn’t include a stop at the border, the White House added a presidential address to the schedule.
After touching down in Dallas, fresh off a campaign swing in Colorado where he shot pool and raised Senate campaign cash, Obama faced the media about the crisis of immigrants swarming the southern border.
His message? Congress must quickly approve emergency appropriations to throw cash at the problem.
“The issue is not that people are evading our enforcement officials. The issue is that we’re apprehending them in large numbers. And we’re working to make sure that we have sufficient facilities to detain, house, and process them appropriately while attending to unaccompanied children with the care and compassion that they deserve while they’re in our custody,” Obama said.
“Now, right now, there are more border patrol agents and surveillance resources on the ground than at any time in our history. And we deport almost 400,000 migrants each year. But as soon as it became clear that this year’s migration to the border was different than in past years, I directed FEMA to coordinate a response at the border, members of my cabinet and my staff have made multiple trips to facilities there, and we’re also addressing the root of the problem.”
The president said he sent a letter to Congress last week “asking them to increase penalties on smugglers and to give us flexibility to move migrants through the system faster,” and followed that up this week with his emergency $3.7 billion supplemental appropriations request.
“About half of the resources would go to border security enforcement, and expedited removal of people who don’t qualify for a humanitarian claim. About half would go to make sure we’re treating children humanely,” he said. “…Congress has the capacity to work with all parties concerned to directly address the situation. They’ve said they want to see a solution. The supplemental offers them the capacity to vote immediately to get it done.”
“Of course, in the long run, the best way to truly address this problem is for the House of Representatives to pass legislation fixing our broken immigration system, which by the way, would include funding for additional thousands of border patrol agents: something that everybody down here that I’ve talked to indicates is a priority.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry greeted Obama when he touched down at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. The two then boarded Marine One for a 15-minute ride to Dallas Love Field.
There, Obama sat down for a roundtable discussion with local elected officials and faith leaders, as well as Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas). White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters en route aboard Air Force One that “the fact that the president invited Gov. Perry to participate in this meeting is an indication of this president’s determination to put aside partisan politics and focus on solutions.”
Obama said Perry expressed concern about the number of Border Patrol agents and the stance of many agents too far from the border, thus removing their deterrent effect. “I indicated to him that what he said sounded like it made sense,” Obama said. “And that in fact, if we passed the supplemental, we would then have the resources to carry out some of the very things that he’s requesting.”
“What I emphasized to the governor was the problem here is not a major disagreement around the actions that could be helpful in dealing with the problem, the challenge is — is Congress prepared to act to put the resources in place to get this done. Another way of putting it, and I said this directly to the governor is, are folks more interested in politics or are they more interested in solving problems?”
Obama said he urged Perry to try to influence the Texas delegation to support passage of the supplemental, which has no fiscal offsets.
“If the Texas delegation is prepared to move, this thing can get done next week,” he said. “…The things that the governor thinks are important to do would be a lot easier to do if we had this supplemental. It gives us the resources to do them. And so the only question at this point is, why — why wouldn’t the Texas delegation or any of the other Republicans who are concerned about this not want to put this on a fast track and get this on my desk so I can sign it and we can start getting to work.”
The Texas GOP delegation quickly made its feelings known about the supplemental request, with Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) stressing “Congress shouldn’t give President Obama a single penny until we see him use the current resources to secure the border, increase interior enforcement, and reduce illegal immigration.”
“The president has no one to blame but himself for the current crisis on the Southern border. He granted amnesty to illegal immigrant minors by promising not to deport those brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents. As a result, tens of thousands of illegal immigrants are now flooding across the border,” Smith said. “I’d be happy to give the president $3.7 billion to secure the border if I thought he’d actually do it. But time and again President Obama has shown that he cares more about the interests of illegal immigrants than of law-abiding citizens.”
The president brushed off calls for him to visit the border and see the crisis for himself, stressing that he’s sent Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson down to the border six times counting an impending visit this week.
“He then comes back and reports to me extensively on everything that’s taking place. So there’s nothing that is taking place down there that I am not intimately aware of and briefed on,” Obama said. “This isn’t theater. This is a problem. I’m not interested in photo ops. I’m interested in solving a problem. And those who say I should visit the border, when you ask them ‘what should we be doing,’ they’re giving us suggestions that are embodied in legislation that I’ve already sent to Congress.”
He said he told Perry “it would be useful for my Republican friends to rediscover the concept of negotiation and compromise.”
On Perry’s call for National Guard troops at the border, Obama said, “we’re happy to consider how we could deploy National Guard down there, but that’s a temporary solution, that’s not a permanent solution, and so why wouldn’t we go ahead and pass the permanent solution, or at least a longer term solution?”
The president indicated he’d be willing to consider a National Guard deployment if Republicans pass the $3.8 billion package.
“If I sponsored a bill declaring apple pie American, it might — it might fall victim to partisan politics. I get that,” he said. “…As I indicated to 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,’ 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.'”
“…I didn’t get any promises, but it was a constructive conversation.”
In a statement after the meeting, Perry said he urged Obama to visit the border, asked for 1,000 National Guard troops on the border right away with Predator drones at their disposal, and asked for medical screenings of all illegal immigrants including an assessment of holding centers by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Perry also asked Obama to rescind DHS catch-and-release policies pending an appearance before an immigration judge and to modify policies on the capture of illegal immigrants from countries south of Mexico.
“Five hundred miles south of here in the Rio Grande Valley there is a humanitarian crisis unfolding that has been created by bad public policy, in particular the failure to secure the border,” Perry said. “Securing the border is attainable, and the president needs to commit the resources necessary to get this done.”
Earnest said the Justice Department is “adding resources and assets that can be deployed to investigate and disrupt criminal networks that are trafficking people to the border.”
“I want to give credit where it is due to the government of Mexico that earlier this week announced five new border control centers along its southern border with Guatemala,” Earnest added at today’s press briefing. “This will allow the Mexicans to ramp up their effort to tighten security and more effectively monitor border activity.”
Vice President Joe Biden also phoned Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, and Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren as “part of our ongoing collaboration to stem the flow of illegal migration at the source.”
“So as you can see, this administration, at the specific direction of the President, is moving forward with a sense of urgency on multiple fronts to address the situation at the border,” Earnest said. “We’re calling on Congress to act with a similar sense of urgency to make sure we have the additional resources to ramp up these efforts.”
After making his statement, Obama jumped in his motorcade to head to a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser at a Dallas residence.