President Barack Obama on Monday asked Congress to pass legislation that would let the government move more quickly to deport unaccompanied minor children once they’ve crossed the U.S. border.
Obama wrote a letter to congressional leaders on Monday as a precursor to his request for $2 billion in funding to address border issues. The letter says the administration is shifting resources around to help deal with the humanitarian crisis on the southern U.S. border, something Obama announced at a Monday afternoon press conference.
But Obama’s letter also asks Congress to take several legislative steps.
“Initially, we believe this may include: providing the DHS secretary additional authority to exercise discretion in processing the return and removal of unaccompanied minor children from non-contiguous countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador,” the letter said.
A White House official told TheBlaze that under current law, the Department of Homeland Security has no authority to voluntarily return children to countries that aren’t contiguous with the United States. That means children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras cannot be immediately returned back to their home countries.
The official said the administration wants this authority, which is already has for Canada and Mexico, and said the administration wants to use it for children who arrive with no legitimate claim of asylum in the United States.
The request deals with an issue that several Republicans have raised over the past few weeks. In a hearing with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, some GOP members complained that the administration was spending millions of dollars processing, housing and giving medical treatment to children, but not immediately deporting them.
House Republicans were still assessing Obama’s letter on Monday, and were likely to wait for Obama’s more detailed request to be sent in before issuing formal reactions.
The request for more money and new legislation is likely to face a somewhat hostile Republican House, which has said Obama’s effort to promote immigration reform has led directly to the humanitarian crisis at the border. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) reacted to Obama’s efforts Monday by again saying it’s the administration’s fault that so many kids are undertaking the dangerous journey to the United States.
“The president’s own executive orders have led directly to the humanitarian crisis along the southern border, giving false hope to children and their families that if they enter the country illegally they will be allowed to stay,” Boehner said.
When pressed, Obama administration officials have admitted that the thousands of children flooding across the border are entering illegally, and will face deportation hearings. But the administration has appeared slow to respond to the crisis, and has often raised the need to pass an immigration reform bill when the border crisis is raised.
Some Republicans believe Obama’s request will be at least partially aimed at making it easier for unaccompanied children to stay in the United States. In his remarks at the White House Monday, Obama gave another hint that not all unaccompanied children will be deported.
“The children who are fortunate enough to survive it will be taken care of while they go through the legal process, but in most cases that process will lead to them being sent back home,” he said.