WASHINGTON – Pressing for swift action, President Barack Obama on Friday urged Central American presidents and congressional Republicans to help ease the influx of minors and families crossing the southwest border of the U.S.
He emphasized to the regional leaders that despite U.S. compassion for immigrant children, those who do not have a proper claim to remain in the U.S. will be turned back.
While citing progress in stemming the flow, Obama called on House Republicans to act urgently on his request for emergency spending. With one week left before Congress’ August recess, Republicans on Friday were trying to unite behind a plan that would spend about one-fourth the amount in Obama’s proposal.
“It is my hope that Speaker Boehner and House Republicans will not leave town for the month of August for their vacations without doing something to help solve this problem,” Obama said after meeting with Vice President Joe Biden and the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. “We need action and less talk.”
Obama played down a proposed pilot program that his administration is considering that would give refugee status to young people from Honduras. White House officials said the plan, which could be expanded to Guatemala and El Salvador, would involve screening youths in their home countries to determine whether they qualify for refugee status.
Obama said such an effort would affect only a small number of asylum seekers.
“There may be some narrow circumstances in which there is humanitarian or refugee status that a family might be eligible for,” he said. “If that were the case it would be better for them to apply in-country rather than take a very dangerous journey up to Texas to make those same claims. But I think it’s important to recognize that that would not necessarily accommodate a large number of additional migrants.”
Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina said Obama urged the region to work with the U.S. to resolve the immediate crisis and also that it develop a medium- and long-term plan to prevent such a flight of immigrants in the future.
Obama’s demand for congressional action came as GOP lawmakers said they were attempting to coalesce behind a narrow package of changes including sending National Guard troops to the border, increasing the number of U.S. immigration judges and changing a law so that youths arriving by the tens of thousands could be sent home more quickly.
The package would cost less than $1 billion, several lawmakers said, far less than the $3.7 billion Obama requested to deal with the crisis.