White House wants $4.5 billion in emergency border funding

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WASHINGTON | The Trump administration on Wednesday asked Congress for an additional $4.5 billion in emergency funds for the U.S.-Mexico border as the administration contends with a surge of Central American migrant families, with the bulk of the funding for shelter and care.

Acting-Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan prepares for a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on his agency’s future funding, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 30, 2019. McAleenan, who is also the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, was directed Monday by President Donald Trump to take additional measures to overhaul the asylum system, which he insists “is in crisis” and plagued by “rampant abuse.” (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The number of families and children arriving alone to the border is outpacing the number of single adults, and their needs are much different. The U.S. is on track to have as many as 1 million crossing this year, the highest since the early 2000s, when mostly single men from Mexico crossed and were easily returned. Border stations were not constructed to handle such a large volume of children and families, and they have been pushed to the breaking point.

But getting Democrats and Republicans to agree on the matter has been a challenge, partly because of President Donald Trump’s hardline rhetoric on immigration. It’s not clear whether Congress will approve such a request, especially because it comes on the heels of the longest government shutdown in history over funding for a border wall and Trump’s subsequent national emergency declaration, which skirted Congress altogether to seek funding elsewhere.

This money, though, would not be used for border barriers at all, according to senior administration officials who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity. It would be used to address urgent humanitarian needs, they said, and the money is needed quickly.

The White House wants $3.3 billion for humanitarian aid to increase shelter capacity for unaccompanied migrant children and the feeding and care of families. An additional $1.1 billion would go toward operational support, including personnel expenses, detention beds, transportation and investigative work on smuggling. And the final $178 million would be used for mission support, including technology upgrades.

“DHS projects it will exhaust resources well before the end of the fiscal year,” reads the formal request letter to Congress, which was obtained by the AP. “Without additional resources, the safety and well-being of law enforcement personnel and migrants are at substantial risk.”

It also says 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.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said Tuesday during a congressional hearing that the department was running out of money amid a spike in migrants crossing the southern border.

He told a House panel the money would be used for temporary and semi-permanent facilities to process families and children and increase detention, though he didn’t specify a figure then.

Nearly 100,000 migrants crossed the border in March, a 12-year high.

Customs and Border Protection on Tuesday encountered its largest group to date: 424 people in rural New Mexico.