WASHINGTON (AP) — The Homeland Security agency responsible for removing immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally will run out of money by mid-August unless Congress approves President Barack Obama's emergency request for $3.7 billion to help deal with a flood of child immigrants crossing the border illegally without their parents, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says.
Additionally, Customs and Border Protection, whose 20,000-plus Border Patrol agents are responsible for arresting illegal border crossers, will be out of money by mid-September at the "current burn rate," Johnson told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday as he defended the president's emergency budget request.
Johnson said if Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Border Patrol run out of money, the Homeland Security Department "would need to divert significant funds from other critical programs just to maintain operations."
While Johnson and other administration officials made their pitch for the extra money, outlines of a possible compromise to more quickly deport minors arriving from Central America emerged. More than 57,000 child immigrants, mostly from Central America, have been caught crossing the Mexican border since Oct. 1.
Because of enormous backlogs in the immigration court system, the result in the current crisis is that minors streaming in from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are released to relatives or others in the U.S. with notices to appear at long-distant court hearings that many of them never will attend.
Republicans demanded quicker deportations for Central American immigrant children, which the White House initially had supported but left out of its emergency spending proposal after complaints from immigrant advocates and some Democrats. On Thursday, the top House of Representatives and Senate Democrats pointedly left the door open to faster deportations.
At issue is a law approved in 2008. Passed to give protection to sex trafficking victims, it requires court hearings for young migrants who arrive in this country from "noncontiguous" countries — anywhere other than Mexico or Canada.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell both said they didn't want to give Obama a "blank check" to deal with the crisis of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children arriving at the Texas border, many fleeing gangs and drawn by rumors they would be able to stay in the U.S.
Proponents of quicker deportations say an effective way to stem the tide of young immigrants crossing the border would be to send them back home right away, to show their parents that the trip north was wasted.
Republicans want the government to have the authority to treat Central American children the same way as children from Mexico, who can be removed quickly unless they convince Border Patrol that they have a fear of return that merits additional screening.
"I think clearly we would probably want the language similar to what we have with Mexico," Boehner said.
White House officials have said they support such changes, but immigration advocates objected strongly, saying children would be denied legal protections, and the White House has not yet made a formal proposal.
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