President 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, administration 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 record numbers of unaccompanied minors and adults bringing their children. The officials gave only a general estimate of the amount, saying the administration would send a detailed request 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 Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson new authority 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.
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“This is an urgent humanitarian situation,” Cecilia Muñoz, 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 working with many federal agencies to find detention shelters for the unaccompanied youngsters and to step up enforcement measures to deter more migrants from coming.
Federal officials have opened shelters to detain unaccompanied children at three military bases and are seeking facilities for other shelters. Border authorities are required to turn over unaccompanied minors within 72 hours to the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the shelters and seeks to locate relatives in this country who can receive the youngsters.
While many unaccompanied children may qualify for some legal status here, many others would not. Authorities want to eliminate delays in deporting children determined to have no legal option to stay, administration officials said.