WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration on Wednesday asked Congress for an additional $4.5 billion in emergency funds for the U.S.-Mexico border as it grapples with a surge of Central American migrant families seeking refuge in the U.S.
Most of the money requested would be used to increase shelter capacity and care for the migrant families who have been fleeing poverty and violence in their home countries. Department of Homeland Security officials said they would likely run out of money without the extra cash.
"DHS projects it will exhaust resources well before the end of the fiscal year," read the administration's formal request letter to Congress, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
The request is just the latest in a flurry of efforts by the administration to cope with what it calls a "crisis" that officials say has overwhelmed federal resources and capacity. President Donald Trump has railed against aides and Congress for failing to do more to address the situation, but has also made clear he believes his hard line on immigration was key to his 2016 victory and intends to continue to hammer the issue to motivate his base heading into his 2020 reelection campaign.
It also comes a day after a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy in the care of U.S. Health and Human Services died after falling ill with a fever and chills. His death is under investigation. Two other children died in Customs and Border Protection custody late last year.
The 2019 fiscal year budget already contained $415 million for humanitarian assistance at the border, including $28 million in medical care, senior administration officials said Wednesday.
But the White House now wants an extra $3.3 billion to increase shelter capacity for unaccompanied migrant children and for the feeding and care of families, plus transportation and processing centers.
Of the new request, $1.1 billion would go toward operational support, including personnel expenses, detention beds, transportation and investigative work on smuggling. The remaining $178 million would be used for mission support, including technology upgrades.
It's unclear, however, if Congress will approve the extra funding. Getting Democrats and Republicans to agree on how to address the border situation has been a challenge, especially on the heels of the longest government shutdown in history over Trump's demand for border wall funding. Trump eventually declared a national emergency declaration to circumvent Congress to get the funding elsewhere.
Senior administration officials, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the request by name, insisted the new money would not be used for border barriers and said the funds were different from those Trump has sought to access through his declaration of a national emergency.
The number of families and children arriving alone at the border is now outpacing the number of single adults, putting new strains on the immigration system. The U.S. is on track to have as many as 1 million cross this year, the highest number since the early 2000s, when most of those crossing were single men from Mexico looking for work.
Border stations were not constructed to handle such a large volume of children and families, and they have been pushed to the breaking point.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered 50,036 unaccompanied children during the last budget year, and so far this budget year there have been 35,898 children. Their average length of stay in a government shelter is 66 days, up from 59 during fiscal year 2018 and 40 in 2016's fiscal year.
Customs and Border Protection on Tuesday encountered its largest group to date: 424 people, comprised mostly of children and families, in rural New Mexico.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said Tuesday before a House subcommittee that his department was running out of money amid the spike and said officials would be submitting a supplemental request, but didn't say for how much.
In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Russell Vought, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the crisis was overwhelming the ability of the federal government to respond.
"The situation becomes more dire every day," he wrote.
The official request also said the Department of Health and Human Services, which manages the care of migrant children who arrive alone or who are separated from their parents by DHS under certain circumstances, will exhaust its resources by June. The funding request includes $2.8 billion to increase shelter capacity to about 23,600 total beds for unaccompanied children.
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said her committee would take a thorough look at the request, but blamed Trump's administration for contributing to the crisis.
"As a country, we must do more to meet the needs of migrants — especially children and families — who are arriving in increasing numbers," she said. "However, the Trump administration appears to want much of this $4.5 billion emergency supplemental request to double down on cruel and ill-conceived policies."
House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., also weighed in, saying she would assess the administration's funding request, while "fighting for policies that will keep our country secure while treating migrants fairly and humanely, and addressing the root causes of migration."
Associated Press writer Andy Taylor contributed to this report.
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