WASHINGTON/AUSTIN (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will meet Texas Governor Rick Perry on Wednesday to discuss a surge of Latin American young people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border that has put the two leaders at odds with each other.
Perry’s office welcomed the meeting, to take place in Dallas on the governor’s turf, in a Tuesday statement that said they would discuss the humanitarian and national security crises along the southern border.
More than 52,000 unaccompanied minors from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have been caught trying to sneak over the U.S.-Mexico border since October, double the number from the same period the year before.
Many are fleeing extreme poverty, gangs and drug violence, as well as responding to rumors spread by smugglers that children who reach the U.S. border will be allowed to stay.
On Sunday the governor sharply criticized the Obama administration for not moving more quickly to address the problem. “They either are inept or don’t care,” he told ABC News. Perry has called for National Guard troops to be sent to the border to help stem a surge of Central American nationals entering the United States illegally.
On Monday, White House aide Valerie Jarrett wrote to invite Perry to take part in a session to discuss the border situation with local faith leaders and elected officials in Dallas on Wednesday. Jarrett’s letter was first reported by the Austin American-Statesman newspaper.
Perry declined an offer to greet Obama when he arrives in Austin, the paper said, citing a letter from the governor to the president. Obama is set to start his Texas trip on Wednesday.
“A quick handshake on the tarmac will not allow for a thoughtful discussion regarding the humanitarian and national security crises enveloping the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas,” Perry wrote. He said he would prefer a “substantive meeting” to discuss the issue and would alter his schedule to accommodate the request.
Obama asked Congress on Tuesday for $3.7 billion to deal with the border crisis. He is traveling in Texas this week to raise money for Democratic candidates running in November congressional elections, but the White House said he would not visit the border, a sign that officials do not see a political upside.
Additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Howard Goller