June 30 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama is asking Congress for emergency funds and legal authority to stem a growing flow of undocumented adults and children from Central American countries arriving at the U.S. southern border.
In a letter to House and Senate leaders today, Obama said legislation may be needed to increase penalties for individuals smuggling children into the U.S. and to provide more funds for increased border security, additional immigration judges and stepped-up repatriation efforts, including children unaccompanied by adults.
“We are eager to work with the Congress to ensure that we have the legal authorities to maximize the impact of our efforts,” Obama said in the letter, citing an “urgent humanitarian situation.”
“The individuals who embark upon this perilous journey are subject to violent crime, abuse, and extortion as they rely on dangerous human smuggling networks to transport them through Central America and Mexico,” Obama said in the letter.
The president said he will submit a formal spending request next month.
Obama will seek more than $2 billion in funding after lawmakers return next week from recess, a White House official said yesterday. That represents an increase of $400 million from plans the administration announced earlier this month.
More than 52,000 unaccompanied children have arrived at the southern border this fiscal year through June 15, almost double the number in a similar period in fiscal 2013, according to data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Most of the children are smuggled through Central America and Mexico, according to the White House.
Earlier this month, Obama directed the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate a government-wide response to the situation.
Some Republicans have blamed Obama for the surge in unaccompanied and undocumented children crossing into the U.S. from Mexico, accusing the White House of lax immigration enforcement policies.
Obama “needs to show leadership” and apply more pressure on Mexican and Central American governments to help the U.S., Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican who leads the House Judiciary Committee, said last week in Washington.
The White House request comes as a broad rewrite of immigration laws is stalled in Congress.
The Democratic-led U.S. Senate last year passed an immigration-law revamp that would create a path to citizenship for most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants while boosting security along the U.S. southern border. The Republican-led House hasn’t acted on that bill, which some Republicans say is tantamount to amnesty.