House minority leader Nancy Pelosi of California said she wished she could just take home with her thousands of unaccompanied migrant children breaching the US border. US Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, another Democrat, brought lollipops to migrant children living in detention centers in Texas. President Obama? He's not going there.
Mr. Obama will be in Texas next week for party fundraisers, but his brief trip there apparently is not going to include an in-person check on what he has called a "humanitarian crisis" precipitated by a massive and ongoing influx of undocumented immigrants – many of them mothers and children – seeking entry to the United States.
The president's schedule is drawing criticism from Republicans, mainly. They say he is not properly attentive to the strains being put on Texas and other border states (and may also hope to goad him into a position in which it might appear that he's giving more attention to undocumented migrant children than to Americans).
What he has done is order federal agencies to find the apprehended migrants beds to bunk in until their cases are processed in accordance with the law – a directive that has led immigration officials to bus hundreds of undocumented people to federal detention facilities around the US, sometimes to the strenuous objections of local residents. In Murrieta, Calif., earlier this week, protesters prevented several buses of immigrants from entering a detention office in the area, citing concerns about crime and the spread of disease.
Some 52,000 children traveling on their own have been caught at the border since October, and US authorities expect another 160,000 to try to cross next year. Reasons for the crush vary, but they often boil down to a quest to escape strife-torn countries such as Honduras and Guatemala for a better life in the United States.
According to reports, people in those countries are being told by relatives and smugglers that if they can just get across the border, the border patrol will give them a “permiso” to stay in the US. That “permiso” is actually a notice to appear in deportation court, but the fact that the migrants are often let loose pending their hearings has inspired others to attempt the trek to America.
Finger-pointing is every which way when it comes to what produced the current border crisis. Some analysts cite Bush-era tweaks to US immigration law, passed in 2002 and 2008, that give migrants from noncontiguous countries greater due process rights and that make it easier for lone children, especially, to secure a legal foothold in the US. Obama critics, meanwhile, say the president's own policies are to blame, especially his move in 2012 to defer deportation for certain young illegal immigrants brought to the US as children.
By US law, the Department of Homeland Security, with help of the Department of Health and Human Services, are duty-bound to treat the migrants humanely. They also must allow them legal due process, which can include an effort to seek asylum by citing “credible fear” of personal harm stemming from social and political situations in their home countries. That process can take months or years.
One way for Obama and Congress to deal directly with the problem is to streamline that congressionally mandated process so that children found to be ineligible for asylum could be repatriated more quickly back to their home countries. That tack is part of a $2 billion package the president asked Congress for this week to deal with the crisis.
Attending a naturalization ceremony at the White House on Independence Day, Obama urged Americans to consider the value of embracing immigrants.
"The basic idea of welcoming immigrants to our shores is central to our way of life," Obama said. "It's in our DNA. ... We shouldn't be making it harder for the best and brightest to come here."
With that said, Obama is scheduled to be in Texas on July 9 and 10, without a border stop on the itinerary.
“What the president wants is, he wants regular reports about what [other officials] are seeing on the border and how resources that are being devoted to processing those who have appeared at the border are being used to effectively administrate justice,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Thursday. “I think the reason that some people are suggesting the president should go to the border when he’s in Texas is because they’d rather play politics than actually try to address some of these challenges.”
Still, the Texas trip brings home the tough spot Obama is in. Some of his core supporters are urging him to provide work permits for 9 million illegal immigrants who would have been eligible for US citizenship under the Senate bill passed last year. Hispanics are a growing voting bloc courted heavily by both political parties.
On the other hand, Americans across the political spectrum are looking to him to address the crush of humanity at the border, and he last week warned Central American parents against sending their children to the US. If parents of unattended child migrants expect them to be welcomed in America, “they won’t [be],” Mr. Earnest emphasized on Thursday.
“The border crisis has put [Obama] 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 US illegally to stay,” write Associated Press reporters Julie Pace and Erica Werner.