President Barack Obama will seek more than $2 billion to respond to the flood of immigrants illegally entering the U.S. through the Rio Grande Valley area of Texas and ask for new powers to deal with returning immigrant children apprehended while traveling without their parents, a White House official said Saturday.
With Obama looking to Congress for help with what he has called an “urgent humanitarian situation,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi visited a Border Patrol facility in Brownsville that held unaccompanied children. More than 52,000 unaccompanied children, most from Central America, have been apprehended entering the U.S. illegally since October.
“The fact is these are children — children and families,” Pelosi said. “We have a moral responsibility to address this in a dignified way.”
Obama plans to make the requests of Congress in a letter to be sent Monday. Details of the emergency appropriation will come after lawmakers return from their holiday recess on July 7, said an official, who was not authorized to speak by name and discussed the requests on condition of anonymity.
Obama will also ask that the Homeland Security Department be granted the authority to apply “fast track” procedures to the screening and deportation of all immigrant children traveling without their parents and that stiffer penalties be applied to those who smuggle children across the border, the official said. Obama’s requests were reported first by The New York Times.
In Brownsville, Pelosi said she holds little hope that Congress will pass comprehensive immigration reform this year but that politics should be set aside.
“A few days ago I would have been more optimistic about comprehensive immigration reform,” Pelosi said. “I thought that we had been finding a way because we have been very patient and respectful of [Speaker of the House John Boehner] trying to do it one way or another. I don’t think he gives us much reason to be hopeful now, but we never give up. There’s still the month of July.”
This past week, a leading House supporter of policy changes said legislative efforts on the issue were dead. Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, who’s been one of the most bullish Democrats about the chances for action, said he had given up.
Republicans have criticized Obama’s immigration policies, arguing they’ve left the impression that women and children from Central America will be allowed to stay in the U.S. The administration has worked to send a clear message in recent weeks that new arrivals will be targeted for deportation.
The Border Patrol in South Texas has been overwhelmed for several months by an influx of unaccompanied children and parents traveling with young children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Unlike Mexican immigrants arrested after entering the U.S. illegally, those from Central America cannot be as easily returned to their countries.
The U.S. had only one family detention center in Pennsylvania, so most adults traveling with young children were released and told to check in with the local immigration office when they arrived at their destination. A new facility for families is being prepared in New Mexico.
Children who traveled alone are handled differently. By law, they must be transferred to the custody of the Health and Human Services Department within 72 hours of their arrest. From there, they are sent into a network of shelters until they can be reunited with family members while awaiting their day in immigration court.