Brian Bennett and Steve Padilla, Los Angeles Times, June 29, 2014
President Obama will send a letter to Congress on Monday requesting more than $2 billion to pay for tighter border enforcement and humanitarian assistance to respond to the swell of children from Central America illegally crossing the border without their parents, a White House official said Sunday.
Obama will also request that Congress change a law that requires unaccompanied children from non-contiguous countries be allowed to fight their deportations in immigration court before being sent out of the country. The change would make it easier for the U.S. to quickly return such children to their home countries, mirroring a similar law currently in place for children from Mexico.
A massive backlog in immigration courts has meant the children coming from Central American countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras spend years inside the U.S. while their cases are being heard. During that time the majority of those children are released into the care of relatives in the U.S.
Obama will ask Congress to give the Homeland Security secretary the ability to speed the deportations of Central American children, the official said.
It is unusual for the president to make requests from Congress when lawmakers are not in session. Congress is on break until July 7. But the crisis on the border is mounting and White House officials decided that they could not wait to make the request until lawmakers return to Washington.
The children from Central America present a particular challenge to the government.
Under U.S. immigration law, Mexican or Canadian children who enter illegally and alone can be returned to their homelands immediately. Children from elsewhere, however, cannot be removed immediately and must first be taken into U.S. custody.
The Department of Homeland Security can detain children who aren’t from Mexico or Canada for a maximum of 72 hours.
The children then must be transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which places them in temporary shelters. That agency is required to “act in the best interest of the child,” which often means reuniting the child with a parent or relative living in the U.S. Others are placed in foster care.