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President Obama, Republicans Battle Over Immigration Reform; Churches on Border Struggle to Help Refugees

( [email protected] ) Jul 01, 2014 07:50 PM EDT

Illegal Immigrants by USA Border
A Border Patrol agent stands at a ranch fence line with children taken into custody in southern Texas brush country north of Laredo.

President Barack Obama announced Monday that he would act alone on immigration reform, and he faced immediate demands from political advocacy groups to follow through on that statement with action. As was expected, GOP opposition to the president's go-it-alone strategy cranked up after his statements also, adding to a situation that will make for an election year war between the two parties.

Part of the political battle will come from a growing crisis on the Southern border, where unaccompanied and desperate Central American children have been showing up by the droves, fleeing violence in their homelands. Obama claims the flood of children crossing into Texas and other locations is the reason we need to overhaul immigration laws, while Republicans claim Obama's policies are what caused the immigration issue in the first place.

Some estimates tally around 53,000 illegal crossings already this year. The President has requested over $2 billion to deal with the issue.

According to the Associated Press, At a panel on immigration at AFL-CIO headquarters Tuesday, the labor union's president, Richard Trumka, told supporters their next task is to spur Obama to act expansively to curb deportations, which have reached record highs under his watch.

"If we stand together and we act boldly I believe the president will act boldly, and that bold action, my brothers and sisters, will lift our economy while making our country more just," Trumka exhorted. "Brothers and sisters, we have much work to do, I suggest we begin."

Panelists also promised to punish Republicans for inaction on broad immigration legislation that passed the Democratic-controlled Senate a year ago but fell short in the GOP led House of Representatives.

"We will make sure everybody knows that the accountability lies directly at the feet of the House Republicans and Speaker (John) Boehner," said Janet Murguia, head of National Council of La Raza.

The issue marks yet another collapse in the legislative process under the Obama administration. Republicans already accuse Obama of going beyond his legal authority to take executive action on issues such as gay rights and equal pay for women and men.

"The failure of House Republicans to pass a darn bill is bad for our security, it's bad for our economy, and it's bad for our future," Obama said in the White House Rose Garden.

"America cannot wait forever for them to act. That's why today I'm beginning a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own."

The president directed Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder to transfer enforcement resources from the U.S. interior to the border. According to Reuters, A White House official said the administration would look at ways to ensure the deportation process was focused on national security priorities and that more investigative teams were available to prosecute smugglers bringing people across the border. The administration has tried to focus on deporting criminals and other security risk, but many don't believe they have done enough.

Obama asked his team to prepare recommendations on other actions he can take unilaterally by the end of the summer.

Immigrants Protest against deportation

The president has pushed for reform that would create a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants within the United States. The Senate bill had such provisions, but Republicans in the House largely opposed them as amounting to amnesty for people who entered the country illegally.

Ruben Harrison, the associate pastor at Primera Iglesia Bautista, the Oldest hispanic Baptist congregation in Texas, established in 1883, and located in downtown Laredo 10 blocks from International bridge, is on the frontlines of the crisis.

Illegal Immigrants at USA Border
This June 18, 2014, photo shows children detainees sleeping in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville,Texas. (Eric Gay/AP)

He and his fellow church members work at the Laredo Bus Station and other areas in the community where illegal immigrants congregate after crossing the border.

"Loredo is like a present day Antioch, we are at a crossroads. we are the gateway, " He said, drawing biblical comparisons.

He says you can go to the bus station on any given day and find hundreds of single moms and their kids waiting to catch a bus to find family already somewhere else in America.

Illegal Immigrants by USA Border
Migrants are released from ICE custody at a Greyhound Bus station in Phoenix May 28, 2014. The Border Patrol says about 400 migrants were flown from Texas to Arizona because of surge in migrants being apprehended in Texas. This group was from Texas and Georgia. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Michael Chow)

According to the Harrison, the Fire Marshal has had to deal with overcrowding there on more than one occasion.

Members of Harrison Church give them food and water, and try to meet their immediate needs.

"You risk losing your non profit status if you try to help immigrants too much," he said. "We are allowed to give them basic needs and then send them on the way."

Harrison said seeing the kids on the run is truly heartbreaking, and he says he tries to have hope, but he doubts if anything will get done soon.

"Reform is a fantasy that people are hoping for, I don't think it will ever happen with the current political situation," he said.

He blames an old enemy for most of the problem, and recognizes that the issue is complex.

"I don't think deporting kids is the best route," "all of children coming to the US, some as young as 4-5 years old, they are trying to get away from situations where there could be tortured, killed and raped if they don't participate in the drug trade."

"The concept is the same as when people fled European oppression to find a better life, the same thing is happening now. This is life or death." he said. "From a Christian perspective, I don't think we need to allow our disagreements to get in the way of the humanitarian crisis that is going on right now."

Illegal Immigrants by USA Border
Two men are taken into custody by the U.S. Border Patrol near Falfurrias, Texas, March 29, 2013. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)
Illegal Immigrants by USA Border
Migrants are released from ICE custody at a Greyhound Bus station in Phoenix May 28, 2014. The Border Patrol says about 400 migrants were flown from Texas to Arizona because of surge in migrants being apprehended in Texas. This group was from Texas and Georgia. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Michael Chow)
Illegal Immigrants by USA Border