President Barack Obama will ask Congress to provide more than $2 billion in new funds to control the surge of illegal Central American migrants at the South Texas border, and to grant broader powers for immigration officials to speed deportations of children caught crossing without their parents, White House officials said Saturday.
Obama will send a letter Monday to alert Congress that he will seek an emergency appropriation for rapidly expanding border enforcement and humanitarian assistance programs to cope with the influx, which includes unprecedented numbers of unaccompanied minors and adults bringing their children. The officials gave only a general estimate of the amount, saying the White House would send a detailed request for the funds when Congress returns after the Fourth of July recess that began Friday and ends July 7.
The president will also ask Congress to revise existing statutes to give the Homeland Security secretary, Jeh Johnson, new authorities to accelerate the screening and deportation of young unaccompanied migrants who are not from Mexico. Fast-track procedures are already in place to deport young migrants from Mexico because it shares a border with the United States.
Obama will also ask for tougher penalties for smugglers who bring children and other vulnerable migrants across the border illegally, the officials said.
"This is an urgent humanitarian situation," Cecilia Muñoz, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said in a telephone interview Saturday. "We are being as aggressive as we can be, on both sides of the border," she said. "We are dealing with smuggling networks that are exploiting people and with the humanitarian treatment of migrants while also applying the law as appropriate."
After the president declared a humanitarian crisis in early June, federal emergency management officials have been coordinating with the many federal agencies involved in finding detention shelters for the unaccompanied youths and in stepping up enforcement measures to deter more migrants from coming.
"The uptick in activity at the border and the steps the administration has put in place are extraordinary," a White House official said. "We are maxing out our capacities within the existing appropriated monies."
Federal officials have opened shelters to detain unaccompanied children at three military bases and are seeking facilities for other shelters.
On Thursday, Obama directed tough comments to Central American parents in an interview on ABC News.
"Do not send your children to the borders," the president said. "If they do make it, they’ll get sent back. More importantly, they may not make it."
The administration is working with governments of the three countries that are home to most of the migrants — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — to ensure the children are safe once they are returned, the officials said.
Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat whose district includes a long stretch of the South Texas border, on Saturday visited about 1,000 migrants detained at the Border Patrol station in McAllen, Texas.
He urged Congress to approve quick changes to laws on the handling of unaccompanied minors.
"When it’s Central American countries, there is a different process," Cuellar said. "One of the things we need to do is tweak the law, to give Border Patrol the power to treat anybody the same as we treat Mexicans."
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