The U.S. House won’t support giving President Barack Obama his full $3.7 billion request to fund the response to the child migrant surge at the U.S.-Mexico border, Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers said.
“That’s too much,” Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, told reporters in Washington today. Instead, he said most of the funding request will be handled through regular U.S. spending bills.
“There are pieces of it that need to be dealt with immediately and that’s what we are working on,” Rogers said.
Rogers’s declaration is the latest setback for Obama’s attempt to quickly secure funds the president said this week are necessary to deal with an emergency at the border.
Republicans are calling to revise laws they say are exacerbating the influx of unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Democrats may have to accept the speedier child deportations sought by Republicans as the tradeoff for passing additional funds for border control.
More than 52,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border from Oct. 1 through June 15, about double the total in a similar period a year earlier, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office.
Some Democrats from Republican-voting states including Representative John Barrow of Georgia oppose the new funding unless U.S. laws are changed and current statutes are better enforced.
Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona propose amending a 2008 law that gave legal protection to migrant children from anywhere but Mexico and Canada, the two countries sharing borders with the U.S. Though the measure’s aim was to guard against the human trafficking of children, it has handicapped efforts to deal with a surge of illegal immigration into the U.S. by minors from Central America.
McCain and Flake want to treat these children the same as unaccompanied minors from Mexico, who are quickly turned back from the U.S. after an interview by border agents. Some Democrats, including Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, are backing the proposal, while others aren’t objecting to it.
Conspicuous among the latter group is House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who said yesterday the policy change Republicans seek is “not a deal breaker.”
Democrats have yet to determine “what price we’ll have to pay” to get congressional approval of the emergency funds Obama requested this week, she told reporters yesterday.
Barrow of Georgia is among Democrats opposing the president’s funding request because it “spends money on unnecessary programs that we can’t afford and does nothing to address the actual problem,” he said in a statement.
The border crisis has intensified the Republican focus on heightening security and law enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico boundary as a precondition for a comprehensive revision of immigration policies. The influx of children, they say, proves their argument and has emboldened them to demand changes in the 2008 law, signed by then-President George W. Bush, as Obama’s funding request is debated.
Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul of Texas today said a House immigration working group is considering a recommendation to overturn Obama’s 2012 directive to stop deportations of children brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents. The order is “the root cause of the influx,” he said.
The law changes under review, and Rogers’s plan to handle new spending through the normal budget process, may lead to a prolonged delay in action on Obama’s plan.
The proposal to allow quicker child deportations may also be handled through the regular spending process, Rogers said. He said he wants to deal separately with $615 million requested for fighting wildfires.
Also, Pelosi said today that wildfires raging across the western U.S. also require emergency spending.
Completion of the fiscal 2015 bills might be six months away. A stopgap continuing resolution keeping the government functioning through the November elections is increasingly likely. Congress may not complete work on the fiscal 2015 funding bills until early next year if Republicans take control of the Senate and see an advantage in waiting.
The Senate’s proposed bill to finance the Department of Health and Human Services would increase the border migrant account by $1 billion to about $1.9 billion for 2015. That bill stalled amid a partisan dispute over amendments related to the 2010 health-care law.
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, a Republican, said today that while she hasn’t seen the language of the president’s proposal, “Congress needs to act.”
“The president needs to go down there and see it himself, like I did,” Fallin told reporters at the National Governors Association summer meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.
Fallin said she has toured Fort Sill, where she said about 1,100 migrant children are being housed. That’s almost at the facility’s capacity and could affect military training if they stay longer than 120 days, she said.
Obama also supports revising the 2008 child-deportation law, though he didn’t include it in the plan he sent to Congress for dealing with the current situation.
“The only thing that’s going to stop these children from coming is if their parents see planeloads of them coming back to the country of origin,” McCain said yesterday. “Then they will have wasted” the money paid to people to smuggle the children north, he said.
Democrats who oppose amending the law include Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
“I can assure you that I will fight tooth and nail changes” to the law, he said at a hearing yesterday.
“When you have an eight- or nine-year-old girl who’s being raped by gangs” and escaping violence, “I’m not sure Americans would all feel like we should immediately send them back,” Leahy said.
Obama and his aides, in urging support for his funding request, are stressing the strain the influx has put on existing resources. At a Senate hearing yesterday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency will run out of money in mid-August.
Though Obama has resisted calls that he personally visit the border -- saying officials such as Johnson have done so and kept him informed -- he met on July 9 in the Dallas area with Texas Governor Rick Perry and others to discuss the crisis.
Perry, a Republican and longtime critic of Obama on immigration issues, followed up yesterday with a letter to the president in calling for changing policies that “encourage illegal immigration,” including those that thwart the quick return of unaccompanied children to their native countries.
Perry also requested the immediate deployment of 1,000 National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border. He asked for clearance to let them use Predator drones along the border “for identifying and tracking human and drug trafficking.”
The proposal Obama sent to Congress would increase detention capacity and court operations to speed deportation decisions, while expanding law enforcement and prosecution of criminal networks that smuggle people into the U.S. The administration also wants to improve temporary housing and care for immigrants while their cases are decided.