WASHINGTON — The Obama administration, in a dramatic escalation of its border-control strategy, will seek $2 billion in emergency funds to help stem an influx of Central American women and children entering the country illegally, as well as new measures to more quickly deport those already here, the White House confirmed Saturday.
President Barack Obama intends to notify Congress of his request on Monday, and the administration will ask lawmakers to modify existing statutes to make it easier to return unaccompanied children to their home countries, an administration official said. The administration’s plans were first reported Saturday by The New York Times.
More than 52,000 unaccompanied children and 39,000 women with children have been apprehended on the border this year, officials said, a large increase over previous years. The surge, mostly from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, has caught the administration off guard and spurred Obama to order a multi-agency response to the crisis.
“We will inform Congress that we will be asking them to work with us to ensure that we have the legal authorities to maximize the impact of our efforts,” the administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the request had not yet been formally made.
The administration has been under intense pressure from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to stem the flow of illegal immigrants. Republicans have criticized the administration’s border policies, calling them too weak to deter migrants from making a long, dangerous journey and demanding that the White House send a stronger message that the women and children will not be allowed to stay in the United States.
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said his office would have no comment until it receives the proposal and has time to review it.
But the escalation of enforcement is likely to be met with skepticism from immigration advocates, who have expressed concerns about the treatment and welfare of the children. The Obama administration had earlier announced plans to send more immigration judges to South Texas, where most of the influx is occurring, and build more detention facilities for families that have been apprehended and are awaiting hearings.
“He is going to get a fight on this one,” said Kevin Appleby, migration policy director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “It could result in vulnerable children being sent back to real danger and possible harm or death.”