By Tom Cohen
(CNN) -- President Barack Obama is asking Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funds to better respond to the influx of immigrants illegally crossing the border into Texas, White House officials said Tuesday.
The money would bolster border security, go after smugglers bringing immigrant children illegally to the United States, speed up the processing of the immigrant influx, improve care for youngsters while in federal custody, and help Central American countries stem the tide heading north, the officials told reporters in a conference call.
For now, many of the tens of thousands of young Hispanic immigrants who have illegally crossed the border into Texas this year remain in limbo while waiting to be processed and possibly sent back to their home countries.
The immigration crisis roiling Washington and the Southwestern states most affected veered further into the political arena on Tuesday as Obama prepared for a visit on Wednesday to the Lone Star State, the epicenter of the immigrant influx.
A surge of undocumented youths from Central America has overwhelmed federal facilities and revived the debate over an immigration policy overhaul, one of the most partisan issues in the already overheated political climate of an election year.
In addition to the emergency funds, the Obama administration will seek more leeway under existing law to speed up the processing of the undocumented newcomers who are overcrowding holding facilities and sparking protests in communities intended as temporary destinations.
Obama has come under criticism from Texas Gov. Rick Perry and other Republicans, as well as some Democrats, for not planning to visit the border area during his one-day visit to Texas.
Perry, seeking to reestablish his national political credentials after a disastrous campaign for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012, said he won't greet Obama at the airport and instead called for a meeting to discuss the crisis.
In response, Obama invited Perry to a meeting in Dallas with faith leaders and local officials, according to a letter written by senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. There was no immediate response from Perry.
Perry has said he "readily" welcomes any federal emergency funds, but also has asked that Texas be reimbursed for more than $500 million the state has spent on border security over the past decade.
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said Sunday the Obama administration will take steps to fix the nation's broken immigration system, even without the help of Congress.
That's the same message Obama has given in response to the refusal by House Republicans to take up a Senate-passed immigration reform bill.
CNN's Greg Clary and Mariano Castillo contributed to this report, which was written by Tom Cohen in Washington.
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