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Exclusive: Obama sends team to Texas to assess need for National Guard deployment

By Jeff Mason

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has sent a team to Texas to assess whether a U.S. National Guard deployment would help to handle an immigration crisis at the Mexican border, White House officials told Reuters on Wednesday, having so far resisted Republican calls for such a move.

The team, made up of officials from the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, departed on Tuesday and will be on the ground through Thursday.

The White House had previously resisted calls from Republicans to deploy the National Guard to fight the onslaught of migrants from Central America because most of the unaccompanied minors and others making the crossing were turning themselves in voluntarily.

But during a meeting with Texas Governor Rick Perry earlier this month, Obama said he was open to ordering the deployment as a temporary solution. He directed Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to send the team of evaluators to assess the situation, one White House official said.

The officials said the federal team would study whether such a role would be useful and make recommendations upon its return.

"There's no foregone conclusion," another official said.

Perry, a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2016, said on Monday he would deploy up to 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to the state's border with Mexico to boost its security efforts in fighting illegal immigration.

Obama is currently on a fundraising swing in California. He returns to Washington on Thursday.

On Friday he is scheduled to meet with the leaders of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to discuss cooperation on the influx of child migrants, which has become both a humanitarian and political crisis for the Obama administration.

The meeting comes as the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border into the Rio Grande Valley in Texas has begun to drop off.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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