The Republican Party, but not the White House, has the power to block the flood of at least 100,000 migrants from Central America, President Barack Obama repeatedly told the nation in a Wednesday night press conference.
“Are folks more interested in politics, or are they more interested in solving the problem? … If the preference is for politics, then it won’t be solved,” said the nation’s Commander in Chief, whose administration spends roughly $18 billion each year on border security and immigration agencies.
“The challenge is, is Congress prepared to act to put the resources in place to get this done?” he said, after meeting in Dallas, Texas, with state politicians and Democratic-affiliated non-profits.
“If the [GOP majority] Texas delegation is prepared to move, this thing can be done next week,” he said about his July 8 request for $3.8 billion in extra funding.
“There’s a very simple question here, and that is Congress just needs to pass the supplemental,” said Obama, who is facing growing public criticism over his immigration policies, only a few months before the November election.
Obama even used his crisis to try to revive the Senate’s unpopular and defunct “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” bill, which would have doubled legal immigration up to roughly 30 million over the next 10 years. Passage of the bill “solves [the border crisis] potentially for 20 years,” he claimed.
Obama’s efforts to pin the blame on the GOP elephant, however, allowed him to evade some difficult political choices.
For example, during his subdued speech, he didn’t acknowledge that the out-of-control illegal immigration is a problem for American communities. They will have to deal with greater welfare costs and higher unemployment if the low-skilled migrants settle in their areas, and polls show Americans are blaming Obama for the breakdown.
If Obama had recognized the downsides for Americans, he would have exposed gaps in his own coalition between the bulk of his voters who oppose illegal immigration, and the important Latino lobbies who want the government to welcome many more Latino migrants, both legal and illegal.
He did say, however, that the “best thing that we can do is to make sure that the children are able to live in their own countries safely.” But he did not say he wanted to repatriate the increasing flow of parents, youths and children back to their countries.
Obama also dodged the sensitive question of reforms to a minor 2008 law that has opened a loophole in the border to youths who arrive without parents. The law was intended to protect small numbers of children and youths involved in sex-trafficking conspiracies, but it is now being exploited by U.S.-based parents living illegally in the United States, to transfer their children from Central America into the United States.
So far, at least half of the detained 50,000 children and youths have been transferred to the custody of their mother or father in the U.S., according to the New York Times.
The migrants who use the loophole get near-automatic temporary permits to stay in the United States, and to get a chance of winning courtroom pleas for green cards.
But this week, Obama dropped plans to ask Congress to combine the supplemental budget request with a proposed change in the law that would allow officials to repatriate youths before they could get into a courtroom. He dropped the proposal after Latino lobbies complained.
At the press conference, however, Obama fudged the reform issue.
He suggested that extra funds would help close that 2008 loophole., saying that “part of what we’re looking in the supplemental is some flexibility in terms of being able to preserve the due process rights of individuals who come in, but also to make sure that we’re sending a strong signal that they can’t simply show up at the border and automatically assume that they’re going to be absorbed.”
Reporters did not ask him how extra funds could give officials extra legal authority to repatriate border-crossers before they can ask a judge for residency.
Also, Obama did not offer any management changes that would deter the migration. He didn’t promise to step up enforcement against the illegals living in the United States who are hiring coyotes to get their children into the custody of federal agents, for example.
Throughout the press conference, Obama blamed others for his border breakdown, which he described as a humanitarian crisis.
“This year’s migration to the border was different than in past years,” he said, even though the number of people arriving at the border to claim legal rights has been steadily doubling each year since 2011.
“The root problems [are] in Central America,” he said, even though critics say his policy of reduced immigration-law enforcement has allowed many illegal immigrants to believe they can cross the border and to work in the U.S. without interference.
Obama denied that his 2012 “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” plan — which has provided a mini-amnesty to at least 560,000 younger illegal immigrants — has encouraged a new wave of young illegal immigrants.
“I think that the challenge we have that has really caused a [migration] spike is the significant security challenges in these Central American countries themselves and the fact that you’ve got smugglers who are increasingly recognizing that they can make money by transporting these folks, often in very dangerous circumstances,” to the U.S. border, he said.
But he repeatedly returned to his main theme — passing the buck to the GOP.
After mentioning House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, Obama asked “why wouldn’t you go ahead and pass a bill to give us additional resources to solve the very problem that you say is urgent?”
The GOP cannot pass a bill on its own, because the Senate is controlled by Democrats.
“Don’t wait for me to take executive actions when you have the capacity right now to go ahead and get something done,” he said.
In fact, Congress can only authorize and appropriate money. All actions are implemented by the administration’s various agencies and employees.
“This should not be hard to at least get the supplemental done,” he said. ” The question is are we more interested in politics, or are we more interested in solving the problem?”