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President Barack Obama is asking Congress for $3.7 billion to address an immigration crisis that has seen tens of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America cross illegally into the United States.
In a letter Tuesday to House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, Obama said the funding would support air surveillance and other enhanced border enforcement, as well as health care for the migrants and additional legal personnel to ensure their cases are processed fairly and quickly.
Obama is separately asking Congress to give Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson new authority to speed up the process of sending minors not eligible to stay in the U.S. back home. The president is also appealing for increased penalties for smugglers transporting children and other “vulnerable migrants.”
Obama travels to Texas Wednesday, where he has no plans to visit the border but will discuss the crisis with local officials.
Most of the more than 50,000 children who have crossed into the United States since October are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Many of them left to escape poverty and violence in their nations, but they have also been drawn to the U.S. by rumors that they will be allowed to stay.
White House officials said Tuesday the president’s emergency spending request includes $300 million for the State Department, of which $5 million would go toward public media campaigns exposing the dangers of traveling to the U.S.
Officials say the State Department money would also support Central American nations in repatriating the migrants, in addition to providing help with security and economic development to address the countries’ problems with violence and instability — conditions driving people to flee.
Another $1.6 billion would go to the U.S. homeland security and justice departments for border security, transportation and detention, new immigration judge teams and other legal resources, as well as the investigation and prosecution of smugglers. And President Obama is requesting another $1.8 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services to provide shelter and medical care for the children while they are in the U.S.
The White House has declared the crisis on the border an “urgent humanitarian situation,” accusing smuggling networks of exploiting the migrants.
The issue has reignited the political debate over immigration in the U.S., with Republicans saying President Obama’s moves to ease immigration rules have encouraged Central Americans to make the risky trip.
But Obama puts the blame on Republican lawmakers for refusing to pass legislation to reform the U.S. immigration system, which he and other officials have labeled “broken.”
The president now says he plans to act without Congress, taking executive action to improve the system.