Obama taps FEMA to cope with 'influx' of undocumented children


President Obama on Monday set up a task force to coordinate the response to a huge increase in illegal child migrants coming across the Mexico border and put the head of the federal disaster agency in charge.

“The influx of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) across the southwest border of the United States has resulted in an urgent humanitarian situation requiring a unified and coordinated Federal response,” the president said in a memo setting up the task force.

The White House said that a 90-percent increase means it needs $1.4 billion more than it thought in March to cope with the influx. 

“Both the scale and the humanitarian nature of this situation is causing us to ramp up and further unify our efforts” White House Director of Domestic Policy Cecilia Munoz told reporters.

The Department of Homeland Security has already asked the Pentagon for beds at Joint Base San Antonio and at a Texas naval base to be used by the child migrants. 

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator (FEMA) Craig Fugate will now be coordinating efforts by the DHS and the Health and Human Services department, which is charged with caring for the children until they can be reunited with family.

“There was no focal point for the effort,” Fugate told reporters.


Munoz denied that the administration’s proposals for immigration reform are causing the spike in smuggling of illegal child migrants. 

“The increase started before the immigration debate,” she said, adding that the administration's decision to stop deportations of residents who came here illegally as children has a cutoff date, so new migrants do not benefit.

“It seems to be quite clear that what is driving this is what is happening their own countries,” she said, citing increased economic turmoil and violence in Central America.

Munoz said that once the children are reunited with family they face deportation proceedings that are decided on a case-by-case basis.

The $1.4 billion increase for the Labor, Health and Human Services budget for next year will cause major problems in getting that bill done. One House GOP aide called the jump “extraordinary” and said a payfor would be needed.  

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) on Monday urged the administration and appropriators to set up a multi-agency processing center to deal with all incoming illegal immigrants.

"Since the beginning of this year, over 145,000 undocumented immigrants have been apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley sector, a more than 65% increase over the same period of Fiscal Year 2013.  If current rates continue, the Rio Grande Valley is expected to have over 240,000 apprehensions for Fiscal Year 2014," Cuellar warned.

This story was updated at 4:49 p.m.