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Washington - A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds widespread public disapproval of the way President Barack Obama and Republicans in Congress are handling the influx of unaccompanied foreign children at the southern border as the two sides engage in a fierce debate over how to stem the crisis.
Nearly 6 out of 10 Americans are not happy with Obama's performance in dealing with the tens of thousands of minors who have arrived from Central America in recent months, overwhelming Border Patrol stations. All told, 58 percent disapprove of his management on the issue, including 54 percent of Latinos.
The findings represent a political blow for a president who called immigration reform a top second-term priority when he was re-elected two years ago with 71 percent support from Latino voters.
But as with many other hot-button issues, congressional Republicans fare even worse in the court of public opinion, with 66 percent disapproving of the job GOP lawmakers have done to address the crisis. Almost as many Republicans disapprove of their party's handling of the issue as say they approve, with negative ratings rising to a majority among conservatives.
Despite Obama's deeply negative ratings on addressing the problem, a narrow 53 percent supports his request last week for $3.7 billion in emergency funding to help provide services for the children and to speed up deportations. The proposal, which was described in detail by the survey, was opposed by 43 percent, although just as many oppose the idea "strongly" as passionately support it.
On Capitol Hill, Obama's emergency funding request has generated opposition from Republicans who say they are hesitant to provide the administration with billions of dollars without guarantees that the influx of child immigrants will be curtailed. Administration officials have accused GOP lawmakers of failing to do anything constructive to address the problem.
Several high-ranking Obama administration officials will brief senators on the request today in a private meeting on Capitol Hill, according to Senate aides.
More than 57,000 children have crossed illegally into the country this year, a far greater number than in past years. The border crisis has quickly become a Washington flash point ahead of the midterm elections in November, with Republicans charging that the president's immigration policies helped lead to the influx.
Obama was also criticized by lawmakers in both parties for choosing not to visit the border during a two-day fundraising trip to Texas last week.
The administration has countered that youths are fleeing violence and poverty and that federal officials are hamstrung in trying to send them back by a 2008 law that provides greater legal protection to unaccompanied children.
The administration's approach also faces opposition from Democrats and immigrant rights groups who fear that expelling the children more quickly would risk returning them to dangerous conditions in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, where most of them are coming from.
On Tuesday, the White House confirmed that federal officials at the Department of Homeland Security sent back a number of families from Honduras to that country on a chartered flight as part of the administration's efforts to deport illegal immigrants who do not qualify for asylum.
The move was intended to send a "clear signal" that immigrants from Central America who enter the country illegally "will not be welcomed to this country with open arms," Earnest said.
Despite criticism from some Obama allies over tougher enforcement measures, the Post-ABC poll found liberal Democrats were by far the most supportive of his plan, with 76 percent saying they back the proposal. By comparison, 59 percent of moderate and conservative Democrats say they support it.
Among Hispanics, 54 percent support the plan while 43 percent oppose it, the poll found.
The poll did not measure public attitudes about another proposal the Obama administration has floated informally, suggesting that Congress alter the 2008 law to make it easier for DHS to deport children from Central America.
Republicans have indicated they will not approve Obama's funding request without such legal changes, and a pair of Texas lawmakers - Sen. John Cornyn, R, and Rep. Henry Cuellar, D, - introduced legislation Tuesday to make those adjustments.
The legislation would rewrite the law to allow Central American minors to be treated like those from Mexico and Canada, who can be deported more quickly. Under the plan, unaccompanied minors from any country would be able to have an immigration court hearing within seven days of their processing by the Department of Health and Human Services, and an immigration judge would be required to rule within three additional days on whether the child would be allowed to stay or be deported.
The bill authorizes 40 new immigration judges to help process the cases. The lawmakers are calling their bill the HUMANE Act, an acronym for "Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency." Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., announced Tuesday afternoon that he had signed on as a co-sponsor.
"The border region in Texas has been overwhelmed over the past few months by a deluge of undocumented immigrants from Central America," Cuellar said in a statement. The legislation "strengthens current law protecting unaccompanied children and responds to the crisis while supporting the men and women of Border Patrol."
But liberal groups are calling on the administration and Congress to preserve due process rights for the minors. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said policymakers must provide "additional resources necessary to ensure the well-being and fair treatment of children and refugees."
The Post-ABC poll was conducted Wednesday to Sunday among a random national sample of 1,016 U.S. adults interviewed on conventional and cellular telephones. The margin of sampling error for overall results is 3.5 percentage points.