Obama Seeks Nearly $4 Billion for Immigration Crisis

Michael D. Shear
Chip Somodevilla / Staff | Getty Images News

President Obama is requesting almost $4 billion in emergency funding from Congress to confront an immigration crisis from a wave of unaccompanied children surging across the southern border of the United States, White House officials said Tuesday.

The financial request, which is almost twice as much as initial reports had suggested might be necessary, would boost spending on border patrol agents, immigration judges, aerial surveillance, and new detention facilities. Nearly half of the money would be used to improve care for the children while they are moved through the deportation process.

"We are taking steps to protect due process but also to remove these migrants more efficiently," a White House official said Tuesday morning. "We are taking an aggressive approach on both sides of the border."

Congress will have its own ideas on how the $3.7 billion should be spent. And already there were signs from Republicans on Tuesday that the president's proposal did not address all of their concerns. Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, said a "working group on the border crisis" would review the proposal.

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"The speaker still supports deploying the National Guard to provide humanitarian support in the affected areas — which this proposal does not address," Mr. Steel said.

The decision to ask Congress for more money comes as Mr. Obama leaves for Texas on Tuesday on a previously scheduled trip that involves political fund-raising and events focused on the middle class and the economy.

Mr. Obama is not scheduled to travel to the border during his visit, but he has offered to meet privately with Governor Rick Perry, after Mr. Perry declined a photo-op handshake with the president in front of Air Force One when Mr. Obama arrives.

In a letter he sent to the White House on Monday afternoon, Mr. Perry rejected "a quick handshake on the tarmac," but offered to meet with Mr. Obama "at any time" for a "substantive meeting to discuss this critical issue."

Watch: Washington eyes immigration

Valerie Jarrett, a senior White House adviser, invited Mr. Perry to a roundtable discussion about the issue with faith leaders and local officials in Dallas. White House officials said Tuesday that Mr. Perry had accepted the invitation, but officials in the governor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The delicate negotiations over a meeting between the two leaders underscore the high stakes for politicians as they deal with the huge numbers of unaccompanied children crossing into the United States in recent months.

Mr. Obama is under intense pressure from Republicans to show that he is cracking down on the new wave of illegal immigration. The White House has said it intends to ask Congress for more money to more efficiently return the children to their countries. The administration has also said it wants Congress to give officials more authorities to process the children faster.

But the president is also receiving criticism from immigration activists, who have long urged Mr. Obama to reduce the number of deportations of illegal immigrants already in the country. The president is expected this summer to announce steps he will take to moderate deportation policies, especially in cases where the deportations separate established families.

Watch: Immigration protests in California

White House seeking $3.7 billion in immigration funds

The immediate question of a meeting with Mr. Perry also highlighted the sensitive nature of the public relations decisions facing the White House in a situation like this.

White House officials had said last week that they saw no reason to send Mr. Obama to the border for a speech or event to draw attention to the latest immigration issue. Officials have said repeatedly that the president has no plans to do that on his trip.

But the governor's letter made it clear that Republicans are eager to draw Mr. Obama into the issue more directly.

"I have followed up with several further communications inviting you to tour the border and view this crisis firsthand," Mr. Perry wrote. "At any point while you are here, I am available to sit down privately so we can talk and you may directly gain my state's perspective on the effects of an unsecured border and what is necessary to make it secure."

Watch: Obama's frustration with immigration

White House officials said the emergency funding would support what they called an "all of government" response to the immigration crisis. Most of the immigrants are from Central America, and the funding request includes new money for those nations to combat the violence that is driving parents there to send their children to the United States, they said.

In a conference call with reporters, officials who spoke only on background declined to offer specifics about how many more children would be returned to their countries with the additional funding, or how much faster the children would be processed through the legal system.

"The bottom line here is the number of kids removed is not large enough," one White House official said, adding that "the process, frankly, is much too long."

Officials repeatedly described the situation at the southern border as an "urgent humanitarian situation" and said that unaccompanied children must be protected and treated well even as many of them are processed to be sent home.

Watch: Obama's aggressive immigration steps

The White House aides said they expected members of Congress in both parties to support the funding request in the same way that other emergencies like wildfires and floods often receive bipartisan backing.

Officials said they had not dropped a parallel request for Congress to amend existing laws to give the Department of Homeland Security more authority to process and deport the Central American immigrants more quickly.

Currently, federal law requires a more lengthy and complicated process for handling Central American immigrants than it does for Mexican immigrants who cross illegally. One White House official said the administration was seeking to have "one approach to children coming from the region."

But officials said they do not want Congress to wait on the funding request while the question of changes to the immigration laws were debated.

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— Michael D. Shear, The New York Times