Central American Leaders Stop By White House To Talk Border Crisis
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
President Obama met at the White House this afternoon with the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The topic - the rush unaccompanied children from those countries turning themselves in at the U.S. border. NPR's Tamara Keith reports on efforts both here and abroad to address the problem.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The presidents met for about 90 minutes and talked about what they could do and what they're already doing to stem the flow of children and families trying to enter the U.S. One idea that came up is a possible pilot project to consider requests for refugee status before the applicants leave home. President Obama stressed that it would be limited.
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It would be better for them to be able to apply in-country rather than take a very dangerous journey all the way up to Texas to make those same claims.
KEITH: White House officials say it wouldn't require congressional approval. And the hope is it would be a deterrent. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, a Republican, has proposed something similar.
SENATOR JEFF FLAKE: We've got to see details but I do think it's a good idea to offer in-country processing. We've suggested that we free up a lot more refugee visas for those who really have genuine claim.
KEITH: The four presidents also discussed the 3.7 billion dollars President Obama asked Congress to supply to help deal with the border situation. Congress has made it clear it won't spend that much. House Republicans held a closed door meeting on the issue this morning, emerging with a greater urgency about doing something before leaving for the August recess in a week. Dennis Ross is a Florida Republican.
REPRESENTATIVE DENNIS ROSS: This is a situation that was created by the president, who has shown total inactivity on trying to handle it. And now if we don't take action, he'll blame us. I think it's important we have to take action.
KEITH: The Obama administration has surged resources to the border, and says the number of children entering illegally in recent days is down significantly from the peak last month. Administration officials say it could be the messaging efforts in Central America or the plane-loads of children and parents sent back to their home countries in recent weeks or it may just be the summer heat. Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson spoke yesterday at the Aspen Institute and said congressional inaction would force him to draw down those surged resources.
JEH JOHNSON: I've got my CFO working overtime without sleep trying to figure out how we are going to pay for this if Congress doesn't act. And basically that's not an option.
KEITH: House Republicans are expected to introduce a funding package early next week with less than a billion dollars. It would also change the 2008 law that has complicated the quick return of Central American children to their home countries. Most congressional Democrats don't want the two tied together. The White House isn't weighing in, expect to say it wants both more money and more flexibility for the Homeland Security secretary. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House.