WASHINGTON - Anger rose Tuesday over the surge in Central American immigrants entering the U.S. illegally, while President Barack Obama faced immediate demands by advocates for bold action on immigration, including a slowing the rate of deportations.
Republican opposition grew to Obama's declaration on Monday that he would take executive action, not requiring approval from Congress, to tackle the long-complicated issue.
The tension plays out as mid-term congressional elections loom in November.
A crisis is unfolding on the border with Mexico, where unaccompanied Central American children have been showing up by the thousands, fleeing violence at home. Obama says the flood of children points to the need for overhauling immigration laws, while Republicans claim Obama's policies caused the problem.
Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Panama, where he met with the country's new president and the presidents of El Salvador and Guatemala to discuss what they can do together to stop the surge. Many from Central American say they are fleeing gang violence and poverty.
And in California, several dozen U.S. flag-waving protesters blocked Homeland Security buses carrying migrant children and families from reaching a suburban processing centre north of San Diego. The buses were rerouted to a customs and border facility in San Diego, within view of the Mexico border.
The migrants had been flown to Southern California for processing to help alleviate a crunch on the border in Texas. More than 52,000 unaccompanied children have been detained after crossing the border since October in what Obama has called a humanitarian crisis. Many of the migrants are under the impression that they will receive leniency from U.S. authorities.
Deportations have reached a record high under Obama. At a panel on immigration at the headquarters of the main U.S. labour federation Tuesday, its president, Richard Trumka, told supporters their next task is to pressure the president to back off.
"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 said.
Panelists also pledged to punish Republicans politically for inaction on broad immigration legislation that passed the Democratic-controlled Senate a year ago but stalled in the Republican-run House of Representatives.
The speaker of the House has said there will be no vote on immigration legislation this year. That promoted Obama to say he would do what he can on his own.
House Republicans, who already have announced plans to sue Obama over his use of executive actions, said more moves by the president on immigration would only stiffen their opposition.
"If the president insists on enacting amnesty by executive order, he will undoubtedly face a lawsuit and will find himself, once again, on the wrong side of the Constitution and the law," said Rep. Lamar Smith.
Meeting with his Cabinet secretaries Tuesday at the White House, Obama said his preference on major policy issues would be to work with Congress and pass legislation. "Whatever we do administratively is not going to be sufficient to solve a broken immigration system," he said.
But seeking to slow deportations while slowing the flow of young people across the U.S. border presents Obama with a difficult set of policy choices.
He asked Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder for recommendations by the end of summer on the types of executive actions he could take. Among the steps he could consider would be to focus deportations on people with serious criminal records, something the administration has already tried to do, with mixed results.
For now, White House officials say he will refocus resources from the interior of the country to the border.
Associated Press writers Jim Kuhnhenn and Erica Werner in Washington and Julie Watson in Chula Vista, California, contributed.
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