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Should President Obama Visit The Texas Border?

Immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally stand in line for bus tickets after their release in June from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in McAllen, Texas.
Eric Gay
Immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally stand in line for bus tickets after their release in June from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in McAllen, Texas.

Much of President Obama's presidency currently falls into the category of damned if he does, damned if he doesn't.

That certainly is true on the question of whether he should visit the U.S.-Mexico border during his two-day visit to Texas.

Some have even taken to asking if this isn't Obama's "Katrina moment," an allusion to President George W. Bush's 2005 failure to immediately visit the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast once the storm had passed. Instead, Bush viewed the vast devastation from Air Force One.

But even Bush offered reasonable reasons at the time for not visiting New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane. A presidential visit would have diverted resources from rescue and recovery efforts, his administration said.

As with Bush, there are reasonable-sounding reasons for Obama to go or not go to the border. Here are a few — on both sides of the question.

Against a border visit:

  • He won't give Texas Gov. Rick Perry the satisfaction of being able to claim he hectored the president into making a visit. The Republican, thought to be interested in another run for president, has insisted Obama should visit the border.
  • A border visit would bring more attention to the problem and reinforce the impression the president is relatively powerless to stop the human tide of immigrants, especially children, from violence-ridden parts of Central America.
  • His press secretary, Josh Earnest, already told reporters Tuesday in no uncertain terms that Obama wouldn't see the border on this trip. "Well, I think what I was pretty declarative about is the fact that the president would not travel to the border, and he is not going to do that," Earnest said. If Obama now decided to visit the border, the White House would look confused, to say the least.
  • His opponents would then very likely criticize the president for doing a border photo op, instead of taking effective steps to stop the influx.
  • For a border visit:

  • The president would take off the table the issue of not visiting the border. That would somewhat neutralize critics, not all of them Republicans, who accuse him of leaving the impression he's more interested in doing political fundraisers in Texas than seeing the border problem firsthand.
  • He might hear or see something that would trigger new insights into how to resolve the crisis. But that's a highly speculative reason for such a high-profile visit — especially one with as much downside as a trip could have.
  • A visit might buoy the spirits of — or at least publicize the challenges faced by — the Border Patrol officers and other federal government workers dealing with the nonstop flow of Central American immigrants, made all the more heart-wrenching by all the children risking their lives on the journey north.
  • In any event, Obama's visiting the border very likely wouldn't achieve much more than a glorified photo op. It certainly wouldn't do much, if anything, to diminish the criticism aimed at him over the administration's handling of the crisis. So the president really can't win on this one, border visit or no.

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    Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.