WASHINGTON (AP) – Tackling what he has called a humanitarian crisis, President Barack Obama on Tuesday asked Congress for $3.7 billion to confront a tide of minors from Central America who are illegally crossing the U.S. southern border, straining immigration resources and causing a political firestorm in Washington.
The White House says the money would help increase the detention, care and transportation of unaccompanied children, would help speed the removal of adults with children by increasing the capacity of immigration courts, and would increase prosecution of smuggling networks. It would increase surveillance at the U.S. border and help Central American countries repatriate border-crossers sent back from the United States.
The request for money did not include proposals for legislative changes that the White House wants. White House officials said Tuesday they still intend to work with Congress to increase the administration's authority to deport minor border crossers.
Administration officials say they are still working on ways to do it faster, but say that the request for specific legislative changes will move on a separate track than the emergency spending request Obama is sending to Congress on Tuesday.
Obama plans to discuss the crisis with faith and local leaders during a political fundraising visit to Texas Wednesday, but he is resisting calls to visit the border for a firsthand look. The White House has invited Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who is among those urging Obama to get to the border while he's in the state, to Wednesday's meeting in Dallas.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, on the border "extremely dire."
"It is clear that additional funding will be needed to ensure the proper care of these unaccompanied children, to enforce the law, and to further secure our border so that these problems can be mitigated in the short term,:" he said in a statement. "Our committee will focus on providing what is necessary to meet these ongoing needs."
As lawmakers return to Washington this week from a weeklong July 4th recess, Obama's spending request is set to be a focus, with the Senate Appropriations Committee scheduling a hearing to examine it.
The developments all come as Obama has declared comprehensive immigration legislation dead in Congress and announced plans to proceed on his own by executive action to make whatever fixes he can to the nation's dysfunctional immigration system. That could put Obama in the seemingly contradictory position of shielding millions of people from deportation while at the same time trying to hurry deportations for the unaccompanied children.