The White House will ask Congress for an additional $1.6 billion to deal with an influx of undocumented unaccompanied children crossing into the U.S., administration officials said.
About 60,000 minors are forecast to enter the U.S. this year without their parents or guardians, the officials said, blaming the increase on violence in Central American countries. That’s almost double of minors who arrived without adults last year, with most coming from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
“The entire administration is focused on addressing the immediate and pressing challenges to make sure these children are appropriately cared for as required by federal law,” Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, told reporters today.
The influx comes as Obama pushes Congress to pass immigration legislation. Opposition from Republicans who control the House has prevented approval.
U.S. law requires Customs and Border Protection to transfer unaccompanied undocumented children to Health and Human Services Department personnel within 72 hours of them being detained. In the past week, the U.S. opened facilities to house the children at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and at Naval Base Ventura County near Oxnard, California, said an administration official.
The funds, if Congress approves the request, would be added to the Department of Health and Human Services budget for the Unaccompanied Alien Children program, the officials said. Another $166 million is being sought for the Homeland Security Department, according to the officials, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.
“This recent increase in unaccompanied children has created an acute humanitarian situation,” Brian Deese, deputy director of the White House budget office, wrote in a May 30 letter to Maryland Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski.
President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget requested $868 million for the HHS program. Deese estimated the department will need $2.28 billion.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is taking the lead on providing the housing for the children. The biggest increases in unaccompanied minors are girls and children younger than 13.
Obama met privately at the White House today with nurses from across the U.S. to discuss immigration legislation. He met last month with law enforcement officials on the topic, saying they are among the people most likely to interact with undocumented immigrants.