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Obama request for border money gets wary reception

By Jeff Mason and David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congressional Republicans on Wednesday cast a skeptical eye on a White House request for $3.7 billion to address an influx of child migrants at the U.S. border while President Barack Obama met with top critic Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Obama is battling political pressure from supporters and opponents alike to halt a growing humanitarian crisis along the Texas border with Mexico.

His request for emergency funds on Tuesday was the most aggressive step yet by his administration to take care of the children who have come from Central America illegally while accelerating the process to have them deported.

The money, however, must be approved by the Democrat-controlled Senate and Republican-led House of Representatives. Republicans, who have pressed the White House to do more to tackle the crisis, gave the proposal a wary reception.

“The House is not going to just rubber-stamp what the administration wants to do," said Representative Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, who is a member of Speaker John Boehner's border crisis task force.

Republican Representative Mick Mulvaney criticized the funding request and suggested foreign aid should be docked to pay for it.

"I think it’s a charade. I think the president has set it up to make it look as though the only reason he’s not enforcing the border is because he doesn’t have the money. And that’s not accurate," Mulvaney said.

"If we approve it – and I’m not giving an indication that I would support voting for it – the first step would be to actually find a way to pay for it. Maybe we take foreign aid from the countries who are helping to contribute to this difficulty."

The White House counters that Obama's record on border enforcement is robust, and many of his Democratic supporters say the president has been too strict about deporting undocumented immigrants who have integrated into U.S. society.

The child migrant crisis has made the debate over immigration reform even more divisive. Without government action, the administration projects more than 150,000 unaccompanied children under the age of 18 next year could be fleeing rampant poverty and drug- and gang-related violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

Vice President Joe Biden called the presidents of all three countries on Wednesday to discuss the issue.

More than 52,000 unaccompanied minors from the three countries have been caught trying to sneak over the border since October, double the number from the same period the year before.

PERRY MEETING

Obama, who has lambasted House Republicans for not passing a bill to reform U.S. immigration laws, is now in the tricky political position of needing their support to address the child migrant issue even while he mulls executive action to help other illegal immigrants who have been in the country for years to stay.

Obama flew on Tuesday to Denver, where he played pool and drank beer with Governor John Hickenlooper.

He flew to Texas later on Wednesday to see Perry, a high-profile critic of the White House and potential Republican presidential candidate in 2016.

After a back-and-forth about whether they would meet at the airport, the Texas governor greeted Obama upon arrival in Dallas and flew with him by helicopter to a meeting with local officials and religious leaders to discuss the border crisis.

The president will deliver a statement about the humanitarian crisis from Texas at 6:45 p.m. EDT.

Despite his travel to the state, Obama has no plans to visit the border as many lawmakers - even within his own party - have called on him to do.

“He can drink a beer, he can play pool, but he doesn’t have time to travel 242 miles from Austin down to the border or 500 miles from Dallas down there,” Democratic Representative Henry Cuellar of Texas told MSNBC television. “He can get on Air Force One and be down there at the border pretty quickly if he wanted to ... he’s the president.”

(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Susan Heavey, Steve Holland and Richard Cowan; Editing by Caren Bohan and Jonathan Oatis)

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