The Obama administration's request for $3.7 billion from Congress to fund heightened border enforcement is being met with hesitation from the GOP.
House Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday he will collaborate with his fellow Republicans to investigate President Barack Obama's appeal for emergency funds, which would be used to address the ongoing influx of migrant children to the U.S.-Mexico border. "If we don't secure the border, nothing is going to change, and if you look at the president's request, it's all more about continuing to deal with the problem," Boehner said.
He also added that they might use the president's executive actions on immigration as a cause for bringing a lawsuit against him. Boehner plans to bring legislation to the GOP-majority House floor this month that would allow for a lawsuit to be filed against the president.
Boehner's comments came one day after Obama asked Congress for nearly $4 billion to fund additional resources as the White House continues its scramble to cope with a wave of undocumented immigrants. More than 52,000 migrant children have fled Central American countries since October, walking alone for thousands of miles and often encountering drug cartels.
During Wednesday’s Senate Committee hearing about the immigration crisis, Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican, noted that the administration has known about the escalating immigration problem since January 2014, but didn't include an aid request in its March budget.
Republican senators from Texas and Arizona criticized the president for not visiting the border this week during his trip to Austin and Dallas for Democratic fundraisers."How can you have a humanitarian crisis — as the White House has called this — and not want to see it yourself?" Texas Sen. John Cornyn said Wednesday.
But Obama's presence isn't needed because other parts of the government have taken an "all hands on deck" approach with the issue, White House officials said in response to critics who have questioned the reasoning behind the president's decision and what they view as his delayed reaction.
"The important thing here is that we've involved the whole of government from the very beginning, that we have multiple agencies of the Cabinet engaged at the highest levels, that the president is fully aware and on top of this situation," Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said Tuesday on msnbc's "NOW."
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson arrived in Guatemala on Wednesday to discuss with government leaders the ongoing influx of immigrants arriving at the U.S. border. The trip is his sixth visit to the region in the past month.
Children are fleeing Guatemala in droves as the country's bloody 36-year civil war continues to taint daily activities almost two decades after it ended. More than 12,000 kids from the Central American country have attempted to enter the United States since October, and the number is only expected to rise. About 880,000 Guatemalans migrated from their home country to the United States in 2012, according to the Center for Immigration Studies.
Johnson, accompanied by Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly on his two-day visit, previously dodged a question on Sunday's "Meet the Press" about whether the government will deport the migrant children who fled to the U.S.-Mexico border. But the White House on Tuesday made clear that the Obama administration intends to return the majority of the minors to their home countries — a process that could take years. Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill say speeding up deportations is the only option.
The death of immigration reform in Congress, along with the recent surge in migrant children being stopped along the southwestern border, has escalated into both a humanitarian crisis and a political challenge for the Obama administration. Many of the recent immigrants who have arrived in the country are unaccompanied children, sent by parents who believe unfounded rumors that they would be allowed to stay in the United States. They are fleeing from conditions of extreme violence and poverty in their home countries, and advocacy groups argue the minors could have legitimate claims to seek asylum.
The crisis warrants immediate action from the highest levels of government, James Perrin, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), said Wednesday in a statement. "President Obama’s request for additional resources, nearly half of which would go to the Department of Health and Human Services to address the issue, underscores the urgency of the situation," he said. "Pediatricians call on Congress to prioritize the health, safety and well-being of these children above all else, and to ensure that their physical and mental health needs are being met."
Obama met with Texas Gov. Rick Perry and community and faith leaders Wednesday evening to discuss the ongoing border crisis. The Republican governor, a critic of the administration's handling of the problem, earlier refused the White House's offer to meet Obama for a quick handshake when Air Force One landed on the tarmac in Austin. Instead, he met with the president in private to discuss the border problem. Obama is also visiting with Democratic fundraisers in the Lone Star State.
Part of the $3.7 billion requested would be used by the U.S. Department of Justice to assist Central American countries in combating crime and violence. The department will also refocus immigration court resources on mediating cases involving recent migrants, and increase efforts to work with other federal agencies, as well as the Mexican government, in investigating and prosecuting those who smuggle migrants to the United States.
The migrants arrive primarily from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The political, economic, and social conditions in the countries are challenging for residents, who face extreme violence, poverty, and weak public institutions — all of which create an environment that many people want to abandon, Border Patrol and FEMA officials said at the Senate hearing on Wednesday.
"We must remember that these are scared, vulnerable children, many of whom have been victims of violence, and they need our compassion and assistance," AAP President Perrin said.
At least one scabies outbreak emerged at a Border Patrol facility in the San Diego region, signaling the most recent evidence of the escalating problems facing the Obama administration. In recent weeks, Vice President Joe Biden has met with foreign leaders to stress the need for a joint effort in stopping the flow of migrants. Additionally, administration officials released public service announcements throughout the Central American region to discourage people from embarking on the journey north.
Undocumented children arriving in United States can expect to face immigration court proceedings initiated by the government. Several advocacy groups have alleged that the government has failed to provide legal representation for thousands of children who have been placed in deportation proceedings. Many banded together on Wednesday in filing a national, class-action lawsuit against the government based on that claim.
"It is simply unacceptable that children are forced to stand alone before an immigration judge, pitted against trained attorneys from the federal government," Matt Adams, legal director for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, said in a statement.
The American Civil Liberties Union, American Immigration Council, and Northwest Immigrant Rights Project are among the organizations that created the charge against various offices, including the Department of Homeland Security and DOJ.
Some immigrants' rights groups are also expressing worries that the government is treating the crisis as only a border security issue. “We continue to be concerned that the administration seems to be prioritizing enforcement over protection,” said Megan McKenna, communications and advocacy director for Kids in Need of Defense.