By Jeff Mason
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – President Barack Obama has sent a team to Texas to assess whether a U.S. National Guard deployment would help to handle an immigration crisis at the Mexican border, White House officials told Reuters on Wednesday, having so far resisted Republican calls for such a move.
The team, made up of officials from the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, departed on Tuesday and will be on the ground through Thursday.
The White House had previously resisted calls from Republicans to deploy the National Guard to fight the onslaught of migrants from Central America because most of the unaccompanied minors and others making the crossing were turning themselves in voluntarily.
But during a meeting with Texas Governor Rick Perry earlier this month, Obama said he was open to ordering the deployment as a temporary solution. He directed Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to send the team of evaluators to assess the situation, one White House official said.
The officials said the federal team would study whether such a role would be useful and make recommendations upon its return.
“There’s no foregone conclusion,” another official said.
Perry, a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2016, said on Monday he would deploy up to 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to the state’s border with Mexico to boost its security efforts in fighting illegal immigration.
Obama is currently on a fundraising swing in California. He returns to Washington on Thursday.
On Friday he is scheduled to meet with the leaders of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to discuss cooperation on the influx of child migrants, which has become both a humanitarian and political crisis for the Obama administration.
The meeting comes as the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border into the Rio Grande Valley in Texas has begun to drop off.
SENATE DEMOCRATS CUT $1B FROM OBAMA SPENDING REQUEST
U.S. Senate Democrats on Tuesday proposed cutting $1 billion from President Barack Obama’s $3.7 billion emergency funding request to deal with a surge of some 57,000 undocumented Central American children across the southern border.
Obama on July 8 asked lawmakers to approve $3.7 billion to bolster border security and speed deportation proceedings, but Congress has yet to take action on the request. At a luncheon on Tuesday, Senate Democrats discussed what their response should be.
“Based on a review of what is needed…to meet needs at the border, the bill reduces the president’s request by $1 billion,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski.
Besides border funding, the Senate Democrats’ bill also includes $615 million for fighting wildfires and $225 million to help Israel speed up work on an anti-missile defense system.
It was unclear if these provisions will help get Republican votes for the measure.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, told reporters he hoped Congress would take action on the emergency funding before it starts its August recess in about 10 days. “These agencies are going to run out of money in mid-August,” Reid said.
Many Republicans in both houses of Congress say they are unlikely to approve emergency funding without changes to a 2008 human anti-trafficking law. They want federal authorities to be able to more easily deport children who enter the United States illegally from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
But many congressional Democrats are balking, saying they do not want to speed deportation of children escaping violence in their own countries. Many of the children are trying to reunite with relatives living in the United States.
No change to the anti-trafficking law will be included in the Senate bill, Mikulski said.
Reid said he thought the 2008 law did not need to be changed because the president had “sufficient leeway” under it now.
Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas told reporters that just approving more money without making changes in the 2008 law was “no solution to the problem.”
He said the other fundamental cause of the border problem was an impression abroad that “if you can make it to the United States, you’ll be able to stay,” an impression he said was fueled by Obama’s decision in 2012 to ease deportations of some children brought to the United States illegaly by their parents before mid-2007.
In the Republican-run House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner said last week he was unsure lawmakers could agree on their response to Obama’s request for help with the border crisis this month. He said on Tuesday that a Republican working group on border issues had finished its work and would present recommendations to the Republican caucus this week.
The Obama administration has been struggling to gain control of the influx of newcomers, which is overwhelming immigration resources and leading to scattered protests from people angry at the government for housing border crossers in their communities.