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Obama, Pena Nieto discuss U.S. influx of Central American minors

By Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama spoke on Thursday with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto about a strategy to deal with a flood of children coming from Central America to the United States, the White House said.

Obama "welcomed the opportunity to work in close cooperation with Mexico to develop concrete proposals to address the root causes of unlawful migration from Central America," the White House said.

Responding to what Obama calls an urgent humanitarian crisis, Congress advanced legislation on Tuesday significantly increasing funds to handle a surge of foreign children entering the United States illegally.

Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, included up to $2.28 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services to feed and shelter the estimated 130,000 minors expected to arrive in the coming year.

Vice President Joe Biden added a stop in Guatemala on Friday to a scheduled Latin America trip to meet Central American leaders for talks on the dilemma.

Between October and May, more than 47,000 unaccompanied minors, mostly from Central America, crossed into the United States, nearly double the number in the previous 12 months, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said last week.

Johnson and senior officials from various U.S. agencies will travel to Texas on Friday to view the government's response to the influx of children, the Homeland Security Department said in a statement.

Obama told Pena Nieto that the United States and Mexico could work together to return children safely to their families, and noted that the children, many of whom are unaccompanied, were vulnerable to crime and abuse.

Obama repeated his position that arriving migrants would not be eligible for legalization under proposed immigration reform legislation or deferred action for childhood rules.

(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal and Roberta Rampton; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Ken Wills and Peter Cooney)

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