Republicans continue to deny fulfilling President Barack Obama’s multi-billion request for emergency funding to deal with the immigration crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson once again made his case for the Obama administration’s $3.7 billion appeal during a two-hour presentation in front of U.S. senators on Wednesday night. He refused to share with reporters details about the senators’ reactions. But legislators from both parties said there was bipartisan concern when officials estimated that the current cost of supporting one unaccompanied child is between $250 and $1,000 each day.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle haven’t agreed on a way to move forward with the influx at the border, more than a week after the president asked Congress for billions of dollars for heightened enforcement, immigration judges, attorneys, asylum officials, and resources for U.S. Border Patrol agents.
The death of immigration reform in Congress, along with the recent surge in undocumented children, has escalated into both a humanitarian crisis and a political challenge for the Obama administration. Funds allocated for care of the children will be depleted by the end of August if lawmakers don’t agree on a spending bill. Congress’ annual month-long break begins in two weeks.
State Department Counselor Thomas Shannon warned of a “continuing crisis” if a long-term solution isn’t reached soon, during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Thursday.
The GOP initially met Obama’s appeal with hesitance, saying he should have included the funds in his annual budget request earlier this year, when the immigration problem was clearly escalating. They also have complained that his bid is too costly, and will not successfully secure the border nor quickly deport the minors.
“It doesn’t appear that they’re asking for any additional authority, only money,” Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, said on Wednesday. “And speaking strictly for myself, I don’t think just money is going to solve the problem.”
Johnson also reportedly suggested that lawmakers consider changing the 2008 anti-trafficking law, according to NBC News. The measure requires Border Patrol to place most of the children under the care of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which then finds them safe housing and advises them on their rights. Obama has asked Congress to amend the legislation by cutting out involvement with HHS and, instead, permit Border Patrol agents to decide about each child’s deportation. Such a change would allow children to return more quickly to their home country.
But lawmakers are not the only ones who can’t agree on a solution — the American public can’t either. More than 10 groups that oppose illegal immigration hope to stage 300 demonstrations in almost every U.S. state on Friday and Saturday. Protesters will appear on road overpasses, outside of state capitals, and in front of the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C.
In response, supporters of immigration will rally for immigrant children on Friday at the Mexican Consulate in Philadelphia. Immigrants and their allies will hold a prayer vigil and share their experiences with the crowd.
“As a mother, I believe that the children at the border are risking so much to come here. They, too, deserve an opportunity to be here. We should receive them with open arms because they’re children and human beings,” said Alejandra Mota, a member of the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia.
Additionally, dozens of immigrant mothers and reform leaders will gather outside of the White House on Thursday night. They will call on Congress to protect women and children who seek refuge from sexual violence, abuse, and human trafficking in their home countries.
“The call to send women and children fleeing violence back to their deaths is simply inhumane. It is un-American,” said Andrea Mercado, co-chair of We Belong Together.
Border Patrol detained Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas earlier this week in perhaps the most high-profile apprehension near the border so far. Vargas, an undocumented immigrant from the Philippines, was later released.
The White House has been scrambling to cope with the influx of unaccompanied children, as tens of thousands of immigrants continue to flee violence and instability in Central America. Government officials made clear their intent to return the majority of children to their home countries — a process that could take years. A number of lawmakers, though, are anxious to return the children as quickly as possible in the hope that mass deportations will deter other minors from attempting the dangerous journey north.
Part of the funds requested by Obama would also go toward supplementing existing public media campaigns in Central America that make the dangers of the trip clear to potential immigrants.
For the first time since 2006, Americans believe immigration is one of the country’s top problems, ahead of unemployment, healthcare, and education.