WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama asked Congress on Tuesday for $3.7 billion in emergency funding to help cope with the growing number of unaccompanied children from Central America who are illegally crossing the southern border.
The money would pay for additional Border Patrol agents and judges, more detention facilities, an increase in the prosecution of smuggling networks and a media campaign to discourage parents from sending their children on a potentially dangerous journey to the United States.
Obama announced his request before he travels to Texas today to raise money for Democrats and speak about the economy. He won't visit the border despite an outcry from Republicans for him to do so.
"The problem speaks for itself when the president, who would prefer to hang out with campaign donors and other political supporters, would decide not to have any interaction with those that are directly affected by his failed policies — in this case the failed immigration policies that led to a full-blown humanitarian crisis," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that Obama had been to the border on a couple of occasions — as a candidate and as president — and that several Cabinet secretaries have visited in recent weeks.
"The president is well aware of exactly what's happening on the border," he said. "And what we are focused on right now are not political statements … but rather with specific, concrete action, steps that can be taken to mitigate this problem."
Obama and Republican Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, a frequent critic of the president on immigration, will meet in the Dallas area with state and local officials about border security.
In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Obama asked lawmakers to "comprehensively address this urgent humanitarian situation."
Administration officials described their approach as an aggressive and cost-effective response spanning the entire federal government to try to prevent border crossings and more quickly process immigrant child cases.
The number of unaccompanied children traveling from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, most through the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, has surged despite an increase in deportations. About 52,000 minors traveling without their parents have been caught at the Southwest border since October.