White House Asks Congress for Billions More in Border Funding

WASHINGTON — The White House asked Congress on Wednesday to allocate $4.5 billion in emergency funds for the southwestern border as federal agencies struggle to house and cope with the influx of asylum seekers coming into the United States.

The request, which includes about $3.3 billion to house unaccompanied migrant children, feed and care for migrants in custody and staff processing centers, is unlikely to pass without changes through the Democratic-controlled House. It will not halt the surge of Central American families crossing the southwest border, but it would allow the Department of Homeland Security to add beds at migrant processing facilities and detention facilities.

The request also includes more than $2.8 billion — more than half of the money requested — for the Department of Health and Human Services to care for more than 23,000 unaccompanied children.

Democrats have already questioned the billions of dollars that President Trump previously requested in his budget for border security and are embroiled in a lawsuit over Mr. Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency to build a border wall.

But Russell T. Vought, the acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, warned in a letter to lawmakers that if the request was not fulfilled, other resources — including money for refugees and victims of human trafficking and torture — within the Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies would have to be tapped for services at the southwestern border. Funds for undocumented children could run out as early as June, he said.

“The additional resources hereby requested will enable federal agencies to address the immediate humanitarian and security crisis at the southern border of the United States,” Mr. Vought wrote.

“Because the need for this funding arises from an unprecedented rise in the numbers and composition of the migrant population,” he added, “these resources should be provided as emergency funding.”

House Democrats will likely agree to some of the funds, one Democratic aide said, particularly the requests for food, diapers and fundamental necessities for migrants taken into custody at the border. But some enforcement funding — including money for detention beds, which could help the administration detain more undocumented immigrants — are likely to be nonstarters.

Representative Nita Lowey of New York, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said that much of the request was designed to “double down on cruel and ill-conceived policies.”

“Locking up people who pose no threat to the community for ever-longer periods of time is not a solution to the problems at the border,” Ms. Lowey said in a statement, adding that the committee would review the request and work with the White House and the Senate “where possible.”

The new emergency request for border funds comes before Congress has been able to reach an agreement on a much larger emergency package for people recovering from the onslaught of natural disasters last year.

But Homeland Security officials have said for months that their facilities and resources have been pushed beyond capacity because of a surge in Central American families seeking asylum at the border.

Kevin McAleenan, the acting Homeland Security secretary, said on Tuesday that the current processing facilities at the border were built for single adult males, but they now house more asylum-seeking families and unaccompanied children, which require a longer processing time.

On a call with reporters, senior administration officials underscored that the situation at the border was becoming more “dire” each day and noted that apprehensions were expected to surpass 1 million by the end of the year.

One official sidestepped a question about whether these measures were being taken in preparation for the administration to reinstitute a family separation policy at the border. But the request, they said, was designed to better handle a surge in family units and unaccompanied children that were crossing over the border.

None of the requested funds — which also includes $1.1 billion for operations and $178 million in mission support for personnel and resources — will go toward the construction of a wall at the southwestern border, an official said.

Earlier on Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers repeatedly criticized Patrick Shanahan, the acting defense secretary, over the reallocation of Pentagon funds toward the construction of a border wall. Mr. Shanahan said he had canceled a trip to Europe this week in part to continue monitoring the situation at the border.

Mr. Shanahan also voiced a veiled criticism of the enduring presence of troops on the border, telling lawmakers that the deployment has not impacted readiness, but the Pentagon needs to get back to its “primary” missions.

Source link