Obama Seeks Brisk Passage of Border Children Funding Bill

Stephen Dinan, Washington Times, July 10, 2014

President Obama’s new border spending request will pay for schooling, health care and lawyers for the unaccompanied illegal immigrant children surging across the border, officials told Congress on Thursday as they pleaded for quick action on the $3.7 billion package.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Congress must approve the money this month, saying that if nothing is done before lawmakers leave for a month-long August vacation, one of his agencies will have to cut its other immigration enforcement in order to hold and transport the children.

But Mr. Johnson and other officials faced bipartisan complaints that Mr. Obama’s plan is “incomplete.” Democrats said it fails to compensate local communities who are having to face the problem, while Republicans said Mr. Obama needs to spell out details of how he wants to change the law to make sure the children can be quickly deported.

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It would provide more money to social workers to house the children, add immigration judges to try to speed up cases so that those who are going to be deported can be sent home sooner and boost funding for immigration agents who are handling the surge at the border as well as detaining, processing and transporting the children.

Some of the $1.8 billion intended for the Health and Human Services Department will provide for education and extraordinary health care for children in desperate need, and both the HHS money and funding for the Justice Department will go to pay for legal representation for the children, officials told the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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Meanwhile, Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, two Arizona Republicans who helped write the Senate’s immigration legalization bill last year, said they’ll introduce legislation they say will get tough on the latest surge.

Their proposal would allow for quick deportation of all illegal immigrants caught at the border, under a program known as “expedited removal.”

It also would require mandatory detention or alternatives such as ankle monitoring bracelets for those awaiting deportation hearings to make sure they show up. It would also increase the number of refugee visas available to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala so that people truly fleeing horrendous conditions can apply from home rather than braving the dangerous journey and applying for asylum after they reach the U.S.

The point, the lawmakers said, was to send a signal that those trying to cross will not be able to gain a foothold along with the other 11 million illegal immigrants already here.

“This crisis will continue until the parents who paid thousands of dollars to smuggle their children north to the United States see planeloads of them landing back at home–their money wasted,” Mr. McCain said.

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Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said the children end up facing a complex legal system here, and he said the money included for lawyers–about $15 million from the Justice Department–would only provide representation for about 10,000 of the 90,000 unaccompanied children expected to be caught along the border this fiscal year.

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Of the $1.8 billion that HHS is requesting, [HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews] Burwell said 84 percent of that is to pay for housing the children, 2 percent is for administrative costs, and 12 percent is for other care expenses such as legal representation and health screenings.

She said it can cost between $250 and $1,000 for each bed space to house one of the children. She said nonprofit organizations are paid to provide the education and other services at those locations.

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