The Senate and House are poised to act on separate emergency border security plans, likely setting up a protracted debate in Washington as the Obama administration warns that it is running out of money to address the child-migrant crisis at the southern border.
“Unfortunately, it looks like we’re on track to do absolutely nothing,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) told reporters, sounding pessimistic about whether the differences in the plans can be bridged.
Senate Democrats said Tuesday that they will move forward next week on a spending bill to provide $2.7 billion in emergency funds to deal with the influx of minors from Central America flooding into the country illegally — about $1 billion less than President Obama has requested.
Meanwhile, House GOP leaders are working on a proposal to set the funding at less than $2 billion, according to aides familiar with the talks. They are set to unveil a set of policy principles Wednesday that would also mandate that the administration send National Guard troops to the border, a move the White House has called unnecessary.
The competing border plans are expected to ignite a fierce fight on Capitol Hill that is unlikely to be resolved before Congress adjourns for a five-week summer break at the end of next week, lawmakers said.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said that House Republicans want to act quickly but that it could take weeks before a final bill is ready to pass both chambers. “We’re probably going to come back in September and do it,” she said.
A major potential stumbling block is whether Congress would support changes to a 2008 anti-trafficking law that would make it easier to deport minors from Central America. The Democratic proposal will not include amendments to that law, but Republicans have signaled they would like to roll back some of the legal protections in it.
The White House has said it would support changes that give Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson greater authority to send the children home more quickly.
Administration officials warned Tuesday that federal border control agencies are running out of money, even as they hailed progress in slowing the flow of undocumented immigrants entering the country through the southern Texas border.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are sending up to 10 flights a week to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador full of adults from those countries apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border, Johnson said. The agency has reduced the time needed to deport adults from 33 days to four, he said.
The number of unaccompanied children apprehended at the border has dropped from an average of 355 per day to about 150 per day last week, the administration said this week.
“We’re seeing the numbers of illegal migrants into the Rio Grande Valley drop over the last four to six weeks,” Johnson said at a news conference in Washington. “We’re not declaring victory. This could be seasonal, but the numbers are dropping. This requires a sustained, aggressive campaign.”
So far more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors and an additional 55,000 adults with children have been apprehended on the border since October. Internal Border Patrol estimates conclude that as many as 90,000 unaccompanied minors could arrive by the end of September.
Johnson said ICE will run out of money next month and U.S. Customs and Border Protection by September. Obama has requested $3.7 billion in emergency aid, of which $1.5 billion would go to the Department of Homeland Security and $1.8 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services, which cares for the children. The rest is slated for the Justice and State departments.
“The funding we’ve requested is very targeted for deterrence and removal,” Johnson said. “The other key to our funding request is transfer authority. If the assumptions behind the numbers change, we need the ability to transfer money within Homeland Security.”
Johnson’s announcement came a day after Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) announced that he is sending 1,000 of his National Guard troops to the border to help state law enforcement agents combat Mexican drug cartel activity inside Texas. Perry accused the Obama administration of not keeping the state secure while dealing with the crisis involving the minors.
But Johnson said DHS has increased resources since June under Operation Coyote, which has arrested and charged 192 human smugglers and their associates over the past month.
Johnson said the administration had not received details from Perry’s office detailing the role of the National Guard troops. Perry said Monday in Austin that the Guard would not have the power to apprehend people at the border but would work alongside state troopers at observation posts.
Asked whether the administration would work with the governor’s office to maximize the effect of the Guard, Johnson said: “I would hope so. We don’t know exactly what they intend to do, what the intended use is.”
Johnson noted that Obama and Perry had met in Dallas two weeks ago to discuss the governor’s ideas about how to handle the border crisis. Obama agreed to review all options, Johnson said.
Robert Costa contributed to this report.