Given the adverse political relationship between President Barack Obama and Gov. Rick Perry, it’s hard to imagine them sitting down for a civil policy discussion about anything, let alone the burgeoning troubles on the Texas-Mexico border.
But that’s what they will try to do during the president’s visit to Dallas on Wednesday.
If the encounter is to produce the kind of substantive discussion that a crisis of this magnitude warrants, both leaders must agree to put policy before politics and find common ground, of which there should be plenty.
Word of the meeting — announced after a tense back-and-forth between the White House and Austin — came as the administration officially asked Congress for $3.7 billion to help address the recent influx of Central American women and children and thousands of unaccompanied minors into the U.S.
At first glance, the White House proposal for emergency funding, which House Republicans are reviewing, appears robust. It would support the efforts of federal agencies charged with carrying out enforcement, humanitarian and diplomatic actions, allotting $1.6 billion for the departments of Justice and Homeland Security, $1.8 billion for Health and Human Services, and $300 million for the State Department.
If approved by Congress, the supplemental appropriation would be used to detain, care for and transport thousands of minors domestically; increase the capacity of immigration courts by adding judges and attorneys; ramp up surveillance at the border; address the root causes of migration in nations of origin; and assist with the repatriation of those deported under existing U.S. immigration procedures.
According to The Washington Post, the request is part of what one unnamed senior administration official called the administration’s “super-aggressive deterrence and enforcement strategy” to comprehensively address an urgent humanitarian situation.
While that characterization might spark some debate, a “super-aggressive deterrence and enforcement strategy” sounds more like Perry than Obama, and it suggests that there might be more common ground to build on than either leader has conceded until now.
But Perry has his own border enforcement wish list, which he outlined last week during testimony before the House Committee on Homeland Security.
Acknowledging the humanitarian and national security implications of the crisis, he argued that quick deportations would best address both concerns.
While he welcomed any additional financial assistance authorized by Congress, he wants the government to mobilize more National Guard units, boost medical screenings for border crossers awaiting immigration hearings, and reimburse Texas the $500 million expense it has incurred on added border security over the past decade. And he urged the president “to secure the border once and for all,” a request more rhetorical than practical at this point.
It’s no surprise that the president’s proposal does not respond to Perry’s demands directly, but it probably addresses at least some of his concerns.
While the White House request does not seek to ramp up the National Guard presence on the borders, it does significantly increase federal border enforcement and protection.
And while the request does not include proposals for legislative changes that would increase the administration’s authority to expedite deportations of unaccompanied minors, as many expected it would, it does expand resources to process immigrant children faster under existing laws.
It’s clear that the president and the governor disagree about some policies to address the crisis, but it seems evident that both desire a swift response.
When they meet face to face on Wednesday, they’ll have an opportunity for a substantive discussion of what the response should be, if only they can suspend politics long enough to have it.