Texas governor Rick Perry warned Thursday that a growing wave of immigrant children flooding into the US risks becoming a "monumental tragedy" and a national security crisis unless they are sent back as soon as possible.
He said a policy of housing unaccompanied minors in detention centers or allowing family members living in the US to care for them risks encouraging a "deluge" of more immigrants from Central America and elsewhere.
"Allowing them to remain here will only encourage the next group of individuals to undertake this very very dangerous and life-threatening journey," Perry told a meeting of US lawmakers held on the US-Mexico border.
If they are not sent back as soon as possible "a humanitarian crisis will turn into a monumental tragedy for those children and... citizens along this border," added the Republican governor and former White House contender.
"This second crisis is one of national security," he added, saying resources which should be used to protect the border were being diverted by the huge influx of immigrants.
"The border between the United States and Mexico is less secure today than any time in the recent past," he said.
Republican lawmaker Michael McCaul, chairing a meeting of the US House Homeland Security Committee Chairman on the US-Mexico border, said Texas is "facing an escalating refugee and national security crisis.
"Since October, more than 50,000 unaccompanied minors have crossed our southern border into the United States," he added, citing estimates that over 150,000 unaccompanied children may try to cross the border next year.
"These children are being exploited by the drug cartels who are turning a profit by smuggling these kids to the US at a cost of $5,000 to $8,000 per child.
On Monday President Barack Obama rebuked Republican leaders who will not pass an immigration reform measure because they fear conservative activists who oppose offering a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented migrants as "amnesty."
Obama's salvo came after the administration announced it would ask Congress for more than $2 billion to enforce the southern border and speed up repatriations.
The president asked for additional authority for the Department of Homeland Security to process and remove unaccompanied child migrants from nations like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who transited through Mexico.