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Obama won’t visit border, but criticism of Texas trip has gotten to the White House

For nearly a week the White House has insisted that President Obama will not visit the southwest border, where there has been an influx of unaccompanied minors, during a trip to Texas that includes three fundraisers.

Obama has been roundly criticized for raising money while what his administration calls a "humanitarian crisis" is occurring a few hundred miles to the south. While Obama will still not visit the border the message has gotten through to the White House, which announced Monday that Obama will meet with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, local leaders and faith groups working with detained children in Dallas Wednesday. But he will get no closer to the border than Austin -- about 300 miles to the north -- where he will attend fundraisers and hold an economy-focused event on Thursday.

After being invited to greet Obama at the Austin airport, Perry sent Obama a letter requesting that the two speak about what is happening at the border. The White House then reached out to Perry, inviting him to the Dallas meeting. A spokesman for Perry said the governor "looks forward" to discussing the issue with Obama.

"Governor Perry indicated a desire to speak to the president about this, and the president extended an invitation for Governor Perry to join this meeting with other Texans who are working on this," Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday. 

There is no doubt that the situation is a sticky one for the White House, which requested $3.7 billion in emergency border control funds Tuesday. Obama is calling for the expedited deportation of thousands of children who will likely not meet the criteria to stay in the United States as refugees, while ensuring that the children who are apprehended are well cared for and retain the right to due process.

The announcement of the meeting and extension of the invitation to Perry is a marked change from Monday, when the White House vigorously defended its decision not to discuss immigration while in Texas. Earnest said the White House was not worried about how it would look to have Obama raising money in the state most affected by the tide of women and children at its border and not addressing the issue.

Earnest said Monday that the White House was "not worried about those optics" and is "very aware of the situation that exists on the southwest border," because White House and administration officials have spent time there and are relaying their findings to the president.

But some believe that by not visiting the border itself, Obama is essentially ignoring the full scope of the issue.

"Well I hope that this doesn’t become President Obama’s Katrina moment," Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) told Fox News. "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 for a long time. 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.”

Advocates who work with detained children said they don't believe Obama can make definitive decisions on the issue without visiting the border or a detention center.

"I would love for him to actually see the situation on the ground," said Caitlin Sanderson, program director at the Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project in Los Angeles. "Meeting with these children and hearing the stories of them and their families because he hasn’t done that yet."

Sanderson said she believes Obama is using the women and children caught at the border as "political hockey pucks" to push forward changes in Congress.

"I don’t take anything that the Obama administration says on immigration seriously," she said. "They say one thing one day and they talk out the other side of their mouth the other day. They have taken very little action and I frankly think he’s trying to use this as a political tool."

But in McAllen, Texas, where hundreds of women and children are detained at the border each day, Teclo Garcia, spokesman for McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, said it is "not vital" for Obama to come to the city. Despite the massive influx of women and children, most are being apprehended right at the border and processed in detention centers; the town is functioning normally.

Obama's meeting in Dallas is 520 miles north of McAllen. But all the city wants, Garcia said, is to be reimbursed for the money it has paid to care for the women and children.

"Whether he’s here or not we just want to the situation addressed and we want the federal government to own up to its responsibility," Garcia said. The city has spent about $80,000 and Garcia said the town will not be providing humanitarian aid to people coming across the border, which is the job of the federal government.

"We have a lot of respect for President Obama and he has a lot of support here but we don’t necessarily think it’s vital for him to be here," Garcia said. "We just want to make sure that he and (DHS) Secretary Johnson are working to find a solution and find a solution fast."

Garcia also wants local charities to be reimbursed for the money they have spent helping the women and children receive a meal and clothing before they are sent to a detention center or to stay with relatives while awaiting deportation proceedings. Brenda Rijoas, a spokeswoman for Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen said last weekend 177 people who were recently apprehended came to the church to access services.

Rijoas said she tries to set politics aside, but said that anyone who wants to better understand the situation needs to see it up close.

"When you see the faces of the women and the children and hear the stories it’s real," she said. "This is something that is very real."