WASHINGTON — When President Barack Obama travels to Texas next week, he will come as close as he has been in weeks to the rapidly escalating border crisis that has left thousands of unaccompanied children in shelters and spurred angry protests in parts of the country.
Despite being battered on all sides on the issue, the president has no intention of visiting the border for a firsthand look at the scene of what he has called a humanitarian crisis, a White House spokesman said Thursday.
"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 trying to address some of these challenges," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday.
In politics, pictures are among the most powerful tools to dramatize policy problems or drive a point home. But a border visit for Obama raises difficult political questions when he is struggling to balance his message on immigration.
Obama is simultaneously trying to beat back the illegal influx of Central American migrants and vowing to take unilateral action to move his stalled immigration agenda, which includes allowing millions of people in the country illegally to stay in the United States.
"The administration can look too nice or too mean, and finding the middle ground is going to be very, very difficult," said Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum.
A picture of the president surveying a fortified border could inflame the passions of his allies pressing for an immigration overhaul, who have criticized him for stepping up deportations and enforcement without doing enough to address the plight of those in the country illegally.
On Thursday, more than 200 immigrant advocacy groups urged Obama to reconsider any proposal to limit existing special protections for unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border. "The administration's recent statements have placed far greater emphasis on deterrence of migration than on the importance of protection of children seeking safety," the organizations wrote in a letter to Obama.
But House Republican leaders who participated in a tour of the South Texas border by members of the House Judiciary Committee said the president was not doing nearly enough to deter families and children from risking the dangers of the journey across Mexico.
Gov. Rick Perry told House members that the most humanitarian response to tens of thousands of children from Central America surging across the border was to send them back as quickly as possible.
The Republican governor also criticized the federal government, calling for more resources, including National Guard and more Border Patrol agents, to saturate the Rio Grande Valley and act as a deterrent.
"Some may think that allowing them to stay is a more humane option. I assure you, it is not," Perry told the House Homeland Security Committee, whose members were gathered in an auditorium at South Texas College in McAllen. "Allowing them to remain here will only encourage the next group of individuals to undertake the same life-threatening journey."
The governor added that he thought the surge of children, more than 52,000 this fiscal year alone, was "manufactured to some degree by the drug cartels."
Perry said that if politicians didn't secure the border, "the American people will address this in a number of ways, electorally and otherwise."
He also took note of the angry reaction to a plan — or rumors of a plan — to move immigrants detained in Texas to other states.
The tensest episode happened Tuesday in the city of Murrieta, Calif., where about 100 protesters waving American flags blocked three buses carrying 140 detainees, many of them children, from reaching a Border Patrol facility.
"You're seeing the reaction in Georgia and in California, Pennsylvania, and I think you're going to see that in a lot of places around the country," Perry said.
One of the committee members, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said the surge of children was being portrayed as a darker portent than it actually was.
"This is not a national security crisis," she said. "This is a humanitarian crisis."
Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, said the president should apply fast-track deportations to many more people crossing the border illegally and step up deportations from inside the country.
Information from the Los Angeles Times was used in this report.