WASHINGTON — Tackling what he has called a humanitarian crisis, President Barack Obama on Tuesday asked Congress for $3.7 billion to cope with a tide of minors from Central America who are illegally crossing the U.S. border, straining immigration resources and causing a political firestorm in Washington.
The White House said the money would help increase the detention, care and transportation of unaccompanied children, help speed the removal of adults with children by increasing the capacity of immigration courts and increase prosecution of smuggling networks. The money would also increase surveillance at the U.S. border and help Central American countries repatriate border-crossers sent back from the United States.
Obama requested the money in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner. The request did not include proposals for legislative changes that the White House wants. But Obama said he still will seek such changes, including providing the secretary of homeland security additional authority to speed up the removal of children who have arrived from countries such as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Obama said he also wants increased penalties for individuals who smuggle vulnerable migrants, such as children.
The developments all come as Obama has declared comprehensive immigration legislation dead in Congress and announced plans to proceed on his own by executive action to make whatever fixes he can to the nation's dysfunctional immigration system.
That could put Obama in the seemingly contradictory position of weighing proposals to shield millions of people from deportation while at the same time trying to hurry deportations for the unaccompanied children.
Congressional Republicans blame Obama policies for the confusion; Obama administration officials dispute that.
More than 50,000 children have arrived since October, in many cases fleeing violence at home but also drawn by rumors that they can stay in the U.S.
Obama plans to discuss the crisis with faith and local leaders during a political fundraising visit to Texas Wednesday, but he is resisting calls to visit the border for a firsthand look. The White House invited Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who is among those urging Obama to get to the border while he's in the state, to Wednesday's meeting in Dallas.