President Obama will ask Congress Tuesday for $3.7 billion in emergency funds to supplement his administration’s “whole-of-government” response to the current flow of Central American families and children across the Southwest border into the U.S.
White House officials outlined the details of the request on a conference call with members of the media Tuesday morning. If approved, $1.1 billion of the proposed funds would be dedicated to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to cover transportation costs, which have spiked in conjunction with the increase in apprehensions, to increase ICE’s capacity to detain and remove apprehended undocumented adults travelling with children, and to expand the use of alternative modes of detention, such as ankle bracelets, for adults crossing illegally with children. Of the money reserved for ICE, $109 million will also go toward additional customs and immigration enforcement efforts, including doubling the size of ICE-vetted law enforcement units in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to crack down on the criminal organizations and smuggling rings believed to be responsible for the immigration surge from these countries.
An additional $433 million will go to Customs and Border Protection to help Border Patrol agents continue to effectively police the border—pouring additional funds into surveillance and information-sharing technologies—while also caring for the massive amounts of unaccompanied minors in their custody. To bypass the huge immigration court backlog in order to expeditiously put undocumented crossers through removal proceedings—a key aspect of the Obama Administration’s strategy of enforcing immigration law as a deterrent to potential immigrants—$64 million will be allocated to the Department of Justice. Planned uses of that money include temporarily hiring additional immigration judges, expanding legal assistance to adults and children, and hiring additional litigation attorneys to represent the Federal agencies involved in the detention and removal processes. In addition to the resources Vice President Joe Biden already announced during a meeting with Central American leaders last month, another $300 million will be allocated to the department of state to assist the three main Central American countries both in repatriating their deported citizens and addressing the violence and economic instability at the root of the current migration flow.
Finally, $1.8 billion will be reserved for the Department of Health and Human Services, the federal agency responsible for the unaccompanied children once they’ve left CBP custody. Perhaps more than any other agency, HHS is really struggling under the weight of the unaccompanied minors. The additional funds will help HHS provide these children with the appropriate care while also carrying out their responsibilities to serve refugees from other countries.
The White House officials also talked about plans to work with Congress to request that DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson be granted discretion to change the rules regarding undocumented children from non-contiguous countries (those whose borders don’t directly touch the United States’). Currently, Mexican or Canadian children apprehended at the border are interviewed by Border Patrol agents who determine whether they are sincerely at risk of being trafficked or persecuted in their home country. If the Border Patrol agent determines that the child is in danger, she will be kept in Border Patrol custody, but if not, she will be immediately sent back home. In order to speed up the deportation process and cut down on the number of children who make it into the U.S., President Obama would like to change the law to treat children from other countries the same as those from contiguous countries.
When asked whether this change would mean the future of each Central American migrant child—many of whom are fleeing situations of dire poverty and gang violence—would be determined by the Border Patrol agent who apprehends them, one official said the goal is to have “people who are trained in the asylum process and the humanitarian process doing the questioning.”
“Our intention is to make sure we are protecting the children,” the official said. “We know they are coming from a harrowing situation.”
At the same time that the Republican-led House of Representatives has made clear that it has no plans to pass, or even vote on, the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate last year, House Speaker John Boehner has directly accused President Obama of causing the current border crisis with his executive actions on immigration. Still, the White House seems optimistic about its chances of getting Congress to approve the requested funds.
“Our hope and expectation is that this will be treated as the urgent humanitarian situation that it is and that it will be treated with the spirit of bipartisanship traditional of humanitarian situations in this country,” one official said.