The White House sent Congress a $4.5 billion emergency spending request for the border on Wednesday, citing an unfolding “humanitarian and security crisis” as record numbers of Central American families seek entrance into the United States.
The request includes $3.3 billion for humanitarian assistance and $1.1 billion for border operations, and represents a dramatic escalation of the administration’s efforts to address the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The money would be in addition to the more than $8 billion that President Trump sought in his budget request, as well as some $6 billion in funding he sought through his declaration of a national emergency at the border.
Democrats are certain to look skeptically at the new request, which comes as Trump prepares to run for re-election on a hardline immigration agenda. It also comes as Congress in the midst of a fight over a different emergency spending bill, for disaster aid.
“The situation becomes more dire each day. The migration flow and the resulting humanitarian crisis is rapidly overwhelming the ability of the Federal Government to respond,” White House acting budget director Russ Vought wrote in the request.
An accompanying fact sheet describes the situation in even more dire terms. “This crisis is threatening lives on both sides of the border and is unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” it says.
Vought said that the Health and Human Services Department is likely to run out of money to provide child welfare services at the border in June. If that happens, the agency will have to divert critical resources from other programs, will cancel or scale back any services not necessary for protection of human life, and will be forced to leave children in Department of Homeland Security detention facilities where they are not supposed to say for longer than 72 hours.
“In the worst-case scenario, thousands of children might remain for lengthy periods of time in facilities that were never intended to be long-term shelters, rather than being expeditiously transferred to HHS custody,” Vought wrote.
The request also includes $377 million for the Pentagon and National Guard for their operations along the border.
The administration request describes what many lawmakers of both political parties have come to agree is a true crisis at the border, where arrivals of unaccompanied children and families from Central America have spiked dramatically. From October through March, DHS has apprehended more than 360,000 migrants illegally crossing the border — 187,000 more than the same period in the previous fiscal year, the administration says.
At the current rate DHS apprehensions will exceed 1 million. And the demographics of people arriving at the border has shifted strikingly, from individual men to children and families. U.S. facilities are not prepared to accommodate that change. The number of unaccompanied children referred to HHS this year is already 50 percent higher than the same time period last year.