WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — A White House official says that the humanitarian crisis taking place at the U.S.-Mexico border is not President Barack Obama’s “Katrina moment.”
“I think it doesn’t make sense to compare this to a natural disaster. This is a humanitarian situation that we have been on top of from the very beginning,” Cecilia Munoz, the White House Domestic Policy Council director, told MSNBC Wednesday. “It involves the entire federal government, it involves our partners in Central America who have acknowledged that we all share a responsibility to make sure we stop this situation before it starts.”
Obama, who will be in Texas for fundraisers in Austin and Dallas, is not planning on visiting the border but will hold a meeting with Gov. Rick Perry and faith and local leaders in Dallas Wednesday.
Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, raised the prospect Monday that Obama’s failure to take a firsthand look at the border crisis could be akin to former President George W. Bush viewing the devastation of Hurricane Katrina from the air instead of on the ground.
“I’m sure that President Bush thought the same thing, that he could just look at everything from up in the sky, and then he owned it after a long time,” Cuellar said on Fox News. “So I hope this doesn’t become the Katrina moment for President Obama, saying that he doesn’t need to come to the border. He should come down.”
Munoz stated that lawmakers are “trying to turn this situation into political football.”
“The president’s instructions to his team and his own efforts have been to stay focused on what’s going to be most impactful in dealing with this urgent humanitarian crisis,” Munoz told MSNBC.
Munoz blamed smugglers in Central America for the thousands of unaccompanied children that are arriving at the border.
“The smugglers are lying to parents, telling them that if they put their kids in the hands of traffickers and get to the United States that they will be able to stay,” Munoz explained to MSNBC. “This is not true.”
Munoz added that they will know if their policies will be effective “when we see what happens to the numbers.”
Obama’s Texas trip comes one day after he asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency spending to get more resources to the border.
The roundtable discussion in Dallas is seen by the White House as a way to address the immigration issue while avoiding awkward optics at the border. Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children have arrived there in recent months, many fleeing violence in Central America, but also drawn by rumors that they can stay in the U.S. White House officials say most are unlikely to qualify for humanitarian relief and will be sent back to their home countries.
Perry, a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2016, has been scathing in his criticism of Obama, saying the White House has failed to respond to his repeated warnings about a flood of minors at the border.
“I have to believe that when you do not respond in any way, that you are either inept, or you have some ulterior motive of which you are functioning from,” Perry said Sunday.
Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said the White House wasn’t worried about the optics of the president traveling to Texas without visiting the border. Officials also pointed to Obama’s request to Congress on Tuesday for additional resources at the border as a sign of the president’s engagement in the crisis.
If approved by Congress, the funding would go to increase detention, care and transportation of unaccompanied children, help speed the removal of adults with children by increasing the capacity of immigration courts, and increase prosecution of smuggling networks. The money also would help increase surveillance at the border and help Central American countries repatriate border-crossers sent back from the United States.
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