Senate to provide $1.9B for massive rise in child migrants
By Erik Wasson - 06/10/14 02:15 PM EDT
The Senate on Tuesday reached a deal to provide almost $2 billion in funds to pay for a huge influx of child migrants streaming across the Mexico border.
The move comes amid growing concern over the massive rise in illegal young migrants, with the Obama administration saying that 47,000 children have been caught crossing the border since October of 2013.
The spike has left officials with a shortage of funds and space to handle the influx and photos of overcrowded facilities have sparked concerns of a brewing humanitarian crisis.
The Labor, Health and Human Services Committee unveiled a bill Tuesday which includes $1.94 billion in funding to cope with the 92 percent surge.
Overall the Labor, HHS bill provides $157 billion in funding, nearly $1 billion more than the House has allocated for its bill which is slated to appear in July. The difference and debate over Obamacare will make passing the Labor HHS bill the hardest of the 12 annual spending bills that must pass by Oct. 1 in order for the government to stay open.
"This is an urgent humanitarian crisis," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).
Harkin said the $1.94 billion is more than a $1 billion increase over the comparable 2014 level.
As part of the deal, the administration will be required to report back to Congress with a specific plan to deal with the surge.
Language in the bill also gives the Department of Health and Human Services additional powers to shift funds between accounts to cope with the problem.
Under the law, HHS is responsible for feeding and caring for the children after they are apprehended by border security officials. HHS bares the biggest share of costs in handling the migrants.
The Senate package should fully cover the $2.33 billion in new funding which White House deputy budget director Brian Deese asked the upper chamber for in a May 30 letter.
The funding is paid for by cuts to other Labor, HHS programs and by changes to mandatory programs, a device known as CHIMPs. While the use of CHIMPs is sometimes derided as a budget gimmick, key Republicans on the Appropriations Committee appear to be on board.
The deal was crafted by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) who negotiated with Harkin, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).
The bill passed out of subcommittee on a voice vote and heads to a full committee markup on Thursday. There were no audible objections.
Shelby, though, complained that he would not support the overall bill because it contains $1.8 billion in funding for ObamaCare exchanges.
"I believe we should not provide more and more funding for a program that is clearly unworkable," he said.
Some Republicans, led by Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) have blamed the spike in migrants on President Obama’s immigration policies.
They argue the policy of deferring deportation for adults brought to the U.S. when they were young has encouraged parents to try to bring more children across the border now.
The White House on Tuesday said they did not believe the surge was related to Obama’s executive order signed in 2012.
"As we've made clear, DACA would not apply, the deferred action would not apply to these unaccompanied minors," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. "They are going through the immigration process to determine how to return them to their home countries or to otherwise handle their immigration status."
Administration officials on Monday said that most of the minors had come from Guatemala, El Salvador or Honduras and blamed the violence in those countries as a “major reason” for the influx.
Changes are also slated to come to the Homeland Security bill, to be unveiled in two weeks, and the State Department bill, the Senate aide said, to further address the problem.
All the costs are to be met within the budget caps set in place by the December budget deal and none of the allocations for the 12 bills are being rewritten.
This story was updated at 3:02 p.m.
Justin Sink contributed.