By Mark Felsenthal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama has offered to meet Texas Governor Rick Perry to discuss the border crisis during a visit to Texas after the governor declined a brief meeting when the president arrives in Austin, the White House confirmed on Tuesday.
“The president would welcome a meeting with you while he is in Texas,” White House aide Valerie Jarrett wrote to Perry.
Jarrett also invited Perry to participate in a session to discuss the border situation with local faith leaders and elected officials in Dallas on Wednesday that has been added to president’s schedule. Jarrett’s letter, dated Monday, was first reported by the Austin American-Statesman newspaper.
Perry had 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.
Perry has called for National Guard troops to be sent to the U.S.-Mexico border to help stem a surge of Central American nationals entering the United States illegally.
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.
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. Thousands more have been apprehended with parents or other adults.
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.
Obama is expected to ask Congress on Tuesday for $2 billion to deal with the border crisis.
Obama is due to visit 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.
(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)