WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — A Texas Democratic lawmaker is calling on President Barack Obama to visit the U.S.-Mexico border to personally see what the unaccompanied immigrant children are going through.
“I’m interested in him looking at the kids,” Rep. Henry Cuellar told CNN. “The kids that I’ve talked to, innocent little boys and girls that have come across and have traveled over 1,000 miles, that one-third of the girls have been abused and raped on the way up here.”
Cuellar specifically mentioned a young boy whose decaying body was found in the Texas desert brush along the border.
“The last young kid was an 11-year-old little boy from Guatemala that died of dehydration. That is the face that I want him to see,” Cuellar told CNN. “Don’t take any cameras, Mr. President, but go down there and see what we’re facing.”
Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra said Gilberto Ramos was found near La Joya, about 20 miles west of McAllen, on June 15.
“Down here finding a decomposed body … we come across them quite often,” Guerra said. He said this was the first child immigrant his office has found since he became sheriff in April. “It’s a very dangerous journey,” he said.
Authorities said that Gilberto was 11, which would have made him one of the youngest known children to die crossing the desert. But his parents said that Gilberto was actually 15.
Cuellar has criticized the White House for the border crisis, saying the Obama administration “is one step behind” a major dilemma that was foreseeable. Cuellar also raised the prospect 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.”
Obama arrived in Texas under pressure to add a trip to the border to his two-day fundraising swing. The White House steadfastly resisted those calls, insisting there was little the president could learn from a border visit that he didn’t already know.
“I’m not interested in photo ops,” Obama said Wednesday. “I’m interested in solving a problem.”
Still, Obama and his advisers clearly recognized the political liabilities of ignoring the immigration crisis while working the Texas donor circuit. The White House added an immigration meeting with local officials and faith leaders to Obama’s schedule in Dallas and took the unusual step of having Gov. Rick Perry fly with Obama on the presidential helicopter so the two could discuss the matter.
The current problem at the border comes at a time when the White House was seeking to cement an upper hand on the issue of immigration, particularly with Hispanic voters, who are increasingly crucial to electoral success in presidential elections. After House Republicans made clear they had no plans to take up comprehensive legislation this year, Obama vowed to move forward with executive actions that would make needed changes to the nation’s broken immigration system.
But the border crisis has given Republicans fresh fodder to challenge that approach. GOP lawmakers have blamed Obama’s 2012 decision to defer deportations for some young people in the U.S. illegally for fueling rumors in Central America that unaccompanied minors who arrive at the border would be allowed to stay.
Indeed, some of the 57,000 children who have come to the border appear to be under that impression, though many are also fleeing violence in Central America. The White House has said most of the children are unlikely to qualify for humanitarian relief that would allow them to stay.
The $3.7 billion border request money Obama is seeking from Congress would go toward seating more immigration judges, increasing detention facilities, helping care for the children and paying for programs in Central America to keep them from coming to the U.S.
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