Standing before an oddly non-descript background in Dallas (really, the president could have been anywhere), Obama kept his distance—from the border, from the thousands of refugee children in bureaucratic limbo there, and from a Congress, he told the public, that bears the brunt of the responsibility for solving the problem.
It was a president who, while bitterly complaining about the partisan divide in Washington, seemed more boxed in by it than ever, taking a decidedly binary approach to what his own White House has labeled a humanitarian crisis of epic dimension. In fact, for a president sometimes derided by conservative critics for placing too much importance on empathy, Obama spent little time dwelling on the huddled masses at the border, most of whom, he assured, would soon be sent packing.
Perhaps the president felt so hemmed in by the stark lines of the immigration debate that he couldn’t locate a less combative, more compassionate middle ground. Immigration advocates have asserted that the flow of children and mothers from Central America has its roots in violence there and not in U.S. immigration policy—and that many claims for asylum should be taken seriously. Obama didn’t try to make that case to the public, instead needling House Republicans for failing to act on an immigration reform bill that has a strong border security component, a bill he said, would have put more boots on the ground and “put us in a stronger position to deal with this surge and, in fact, prevent it.”