*Footnote: With many mainstream media organizations not respecting President Barack Obama and his statements on the immigration issue, African-American News&Issues is publishing the statements in their entirety so the American Public can read the president’s actual comments without the filters of biased media.
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody. I just had a good meeting with Governor Perry, local officials, and faith leaders to talk about the steps that we have taken and that we need to take to address the humanitarian situation on the border.
And I want to thank everybody who’s been involved for taking the time to talk to me.
It’s important to recognize two things. First, the surge of unaccompanied children, and adults with children, are arriving at one sector of the border, and that’s the Rio Grande Valley. Second, the issue is not that people are evading our enforcement officials. The issue is that we’re apprehending them in large numbers. And we’re working to make sure that we have sufficient facilities to detain, house, and process them appropriately, while attending to unaccompanied children with the care and compassion that they deserve while they’re in our custody.
While we intend to do the right thing by these children, their parents need to know that this is an incredibly dangerous situation and it is unlikely that their children will be able to stay. And I’ve asked parents across Central America not to put their children in harm’s way in this fashion.
Right now, there are more Border Patrol agents and surveillance resources on the ground than at any time in our history. And we deport almost 400,000 migrants each year. But as soon as it became clear that this year’s migration to the border was different than in past years, I directed FEMA to coordinate our response at the border. Members of my Cabinet and my staff have made multiple trips to facilities there. And we’re also addressing the root of the problem. I sent Vice President Biden and Secretary Kerry and Secretary Johnson to meet with Central American leaders, as well as working with our international partners to go after smugglers who are putting their kids’ lives at risk.
And earlier this week, Mexico announced a series of steps that they’re going to take on their southern border to help stem the tide of these unaccompanied children.
Last week, I sent a letter to Congress asking them to increase penalties on smugglers and to give us flexibility to move migrants through the system faster.
Yesterday, I asked Congress to fund these efforts. About half of the resources would go to border security, enforcement, and expedited removal of people who don’t qualify for a humanitarian claim. About half would go to make sure we’re treating children humanely. We’d also make investments to further tackle the root problems in Central America.
So right now, Congress has the capacity to work with us, work with state officials, local officials, and faith-based groups and non-for-profits who are helping to care for these kids — Congress has the capacity to work with all parties concerned to directly address the situation. They’ve said they want to see a solution. The supplemental offers them the capacity to vote immediately to get it done.
Of course, in the long run, the best way to truly address this problem is for the House of Representatives to pass legislation fixing our broken immigration system, which, by the way, would include funding for additional thousands of Border Patrol agents — something that everybody down here that I’ve talked to indicates is a priority.
The Senate passed a common-sense, bipartisan bill more than a year ago. It would have strengthened the border, added an additional 20,000 Border Patrol agents. It would have strengthened our backlogged immigration courts. It would have put us in a stronger position to deal with this surge and, in fact, prevent it.
So let me just close by indicating the nature of the conversation that I had with Governor Perry, which I thought was constructive. Governor Perry suggested four specific areas of concern. He was concerned about how many patrol agents were directly at the border. He was concerned that some of the positioning of Border Patrol agents is too far from the border to be effective in deterring folks from coming in as opposed to simply apprehending them. I indicated to him that what he said sounded like it made sense and that, in fact, if we pass the supplemental we would then have the resources to carry out some of the very things that he’s requesting.
On a broader policy level, he indicated concern that right now kids who come to the border from Mexico are immediately deported, but because it’s non-contiguous, folks who are coming from Central America have to go through a much lengthier process. I indicated to him 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.
He also expressed concerns about how the immigration judicial system works, how the administrative processing works, how long it takes and the fact that oftentimes people appear, are then essentially released with a court date that might be six months out or nine months, and a sizable number, not surprisingly, don’t show up.
I indicated to him that if we had more administrative judges, more administrative capacity, we can shrink those wait times. This administrative practice predates my administration and, in fact, has been going on for quite some time, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that there’s not enough capacity, both in terms of detention facilities, but also in terms of judges, attorneys, space in order to process these things more quickly and expeditiously.
So the bottom line is, actually, that there’s nothing that the Governor indicated he’d like to see that I have a philosophical objection to. I’ve asked Jeh Johnson to contact his head of Health and Human Services when he comes down for the sixth time at the end of this week to coordinate and make sure that some of the suggestions that the Governor has are technically feasible and what kind of resources might be needed. But what I emphasized to the Governor was the problem here is not a major disagreement around the actions that could be helpful in dealing with the problem. The challenge is, is Congress prepared to act to put the resources in place to get this done.
Another way of putting it — and I said this directly to the Governor — is are folks more interested in politics, or are they more interested in solving the problem? If they’re interested in solving the problem, then this can be solved. If the preference is for politics, then it won’t be solved.
And I urged the Governor to talk to the Texas delegation, which is obviously at the heart of the Republican caucus both in the House and has great influence in the caucus in the Senate. If the Texas delegation is in favor of this supplemental — which, by the way, does not include some things that I know many of them object to around dealing with undocumented workers who have been in this country for quite some time — this is just a very narrow issue, this supplemental, in terms of dealing with the particular problem we have right now — if the Texas delegation is prepared to move, this thing can get done next week. And we can have more Border Patrol agents on the border, as the Governor has requested; we can shorten the timetables for processing these children or adults with children, as the Governor thinks is important; we can make sure that some of the public health issues that were raised in the meeting that I just had are addressed so that we’ve got enough folks vaccinating and checking on the health status of these children to make sure that not only are they safe, but also our communities are safe.
The things that the Governor thinks are important to do would be a lot easier to do if we had this supplemental. It gives us the resources to do them. And so, the only question at this point is why wouldn’t the Texas delegation or any of the other Republicans who are concerned about this not want to put this on a fast track and get this on my desk so I can sign it and we can start getting to work?
I suggested to the Governor he has, I suspect, some influence over the Texas delegation, and that might be helpful to call on them to pass this supplemental right away.
The final point I’ll make is I just want to thank some of the faith-based groups that I just met with, as well as mayors, commissioners, local officials. Dallas has been incredibly compassionate in looking at some sights, some facilities in which they can accommodate some of these children. And I indicated in hearing the stories of churches that are prepared to not just make donations but send volunteers to help construct some of these facilities or fix them up, and their willingness to volunteer in providing care and assistance to these children — I told them thank you, because it confirmed what I think we all know, which is the American people are an incredibly compassionate people and when we see a child in need we want to care for them.
But what I think we all agreed on is, is that the best thing that we can do is to make sure that the children are able to live in their own countries safely. And that’s why it’s going to be important, even as we solve the short-term problem here, for us to be able to direct attention and resources and assistance — as we’re doing, but not at a sustained and high enough level — back in Honduras and Guatemala and El Salvador and other places, so that parents don’t think that somehow it’s safer for their children to send them thousands of miles just so that they don’t get harmed.