Congress gearing up to tackle $3.7B request to bolster US border amid migrant surge

Congress will begin the process this week of examining a nearly $4 billion emergency request to help deploy more resources to deal with the surge in unaccompanied children and other migrants from Central America.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that his panel will look carefully at the Obama administration’s $3.7 billion emergency spending request to address the sharp rise in U.S. border crossings.

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“In the next few days and weeks, my committee will take a close and a thorough look at this funding request, and as per the normal congressional process, will make our own determination on how to appropriately and wisely use taxpayer resources,” Rogers said in a statement following the release of the White House's request.

“Plainly, the situation for many of these unaccompanied children is extremely dire, and the United States has both a security and a moral obligation to help solve the crisis at hand.

Rogers acknowledged the need for additional funding to ensure that the children are cared for properly, immigration laws are enforced and the problems are dealt with quickly.

House Appropriations Committee ranking member Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) called the influx of unaccompanied children across the border “a complex humanitarian crisis that requires thoughtful and bipartisan solutions, not the political posturing and blame games that have done nothing to prevent and respond to these serious challenges.”

She also tied the issue to the lack of action on comprehensive immigration reform.

“The emergency we now face is only the latest evidence of the need for comprehensive immigration reform that bolsters border security, grows the economy, and offers an earned path to citizenship to those law-abiding immigrants who have made a life in the United States."

On Monday, the Senate Appropriations Committee announced that it would hold a hearing on Thursday with top administration officials.

Initially, the request was expected to run about $2 billion but that figure more than doubled to a $4.3 billion package, which also includes a $615 million request to fight wildfires in the west.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said Tuesday that Rogers’ panel, as well as a working group on the border crisis led by Rep. Kay Granger, “will review the White House proposal.”  

“The Speaker still supports deploying the National Guard to provide humanitarian support in the affected areas, which this proposal does not address,” Steel said.

Democrats and Republicans have been critical of the Obama administration’s response to the crisis so far, arguing that little has been done to stem the tide of migrants or deliver the message that those trying to leave their home countries will be allowed to stay here.

“If you look at the details, what you see is an embodiment of the incredibly serious commitment that the president has to addressing the situation,” one White House official said. 

Obama administration officials have said that most of the immigrants are trying to escape violence.

But  White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday that most of the children would not be allowed to stay here.

Some of the funding would be used to speed up the deportation process.

The request includes $1.8 billion for the Health and Human Services Department to provide “appropriate care” for the children, who are mostly traveling from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell is set to testify before the Senate panel on Thursday.

The Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement are provided with $1.1 billion to expand border security and cover transportation costs.

On Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is slated to testify at the Senate hearing.

Overall, administration officials said they are hopeful that Congress will approve the request. 

“Our hope and expectation … is that this will be treated as the urgent humanitarian situation that it is." 

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