The president was also criticized during visits to Texas and Colorado on Wednesday for political fundraisers, but refusing to visit the southern border where 60,000 children are being held in overcrowded immigration facilities.
“There is nothing that is taking place down there that I am not intimately aware of and briefed on,” Obama said. “This isn’t theater, this is a problem. I’m not interested in photo ops.”
Obama drew fire from a member of his own party for strolling down 15th Street Tuesday in Denver, playing pool and sharing a beer with Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper during a photo op instead of visiting the border.
Rep. Henry Cuellar, whose district abuts the Mexican border, called the president’s Colorado visit “bizarre” and suggested the crisis would become Obama’s “Katrina” moment.
“When he is shown playing pool in Colorado, drinking beer, he can’t even go 242 miles to the Texas border?” Cuellar said during an interview with MSNBC.
Obama says he has not ruled out sending the National Guard to the southern border and is pressuring House Republicans to pass a Democratic bill that includes a contentious amnesty provision.
Lawmakers interviewed Wednesday did not rule out finding spending offsets in the federal budget to pay for deporting, holding, or reuniting the children with family members.
Colorado Republican Rep. Cory Gardner criticized Obama for “failing to lead” on the border kids crisis.
“It’s obviously a humanitarian and immigration crisis, but this just shows we need to look at ways to secure our border,” Gardner said.
Colorado Republican Rep. Scott Tipton said the president’s Deferred Action on Childhood Arrival, an executive order Obama announced in June 2012, contributed to the exodus.
“To have this extensive jump in the number of kids crossing the border, the president needs to come to us and work with us on border security,” Tipton said.
Tipton rejected the proposition that adding money to the federal deficit would solve the crisis. “We all have a heart for these kids, but by the same token, we don’t have the resources to deal with all of this. We have a $17 trillion debt.”
Colorado Democratic Rep. Jared Polis said he was not opposed to finding cuts to existing programs to pay for stemming the flood of child immigrants, but that he would need to see the specifics of any legislation before pledging his support.
“We need to secure our lands. We need to make sure our goods and people are safe,” Polis said.
Colorado Republican Reps. Mike Coffman and Doug Lamborn did not respond to interview requests. Spokesmen for Democratic Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet also declined requests for comment.
Obama’s funding request would send $1.6 billion to the Homeland Security Department to bolster border security and hire more judges, lawyers and asylum officers. The Health and Human Services Department would receive $1.8 billion to house and care for the children.
The influx of children and teenagers from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who were transported to the border by drug smugglers and human traffickers has overwhelmed detention centers near the Texas and Arizona border.
Organizations representing sheriffs have declined to comment on the proper federal response to the crisis. Chris Johnson, executive director of the County Sheriffs of Colorado, said its board has not taken a position on policy.
“The issue never came up” at a meeting earlier this year, Johnson said.
James Pond, executive director of Western States Sheriffs Association, said the organization has not taken a position on the crisis but expects to issue a statement and a white paper at its September meeting in Sante Fe, New Mexico.