WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama isn't likely to get an easy sign-off on the $3.7 billion in funding he requested to deal with a crisis of unaccompanied minors crossing the border illegally.
Republicans on Tuesday and Wednesday laid out a number of demands they want met before they approve funding to deal with the influx in illegal border crossings. For many, the issue boiled down to the same talking points GOP members have been using for months on immigration reform: Obama isn't enforcing the law, they said, and they can't work with him on anything until he does.
"I’d be happy to give the President $3.7 billion to secure the border if I thought he’d actually do it," Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said in a statement. "Congress shouldn’t give President Obama a single penny until we see him use the current resources to secure the border, increase interior enforcement, and reduce illegal immigration," he added later.
The request includes funding meant to increase border patrol capacity and speed deportations -- ostensibly the exact things Republicans say they want. Obama asked Congress for $1.1 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and $433 million for Customs and Border Protection, both of which focus on apprehending and removing unauthorized immigrants. The request also includes $64 million for the Department of Justice, which would allow the department to work through removal cases more quickly.
Many Republicans say the Obama administration's immigration policies are to blame for the crisis happening at all, and showed little interest in approving his funding request unless he changes the way he enforces the law. Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), whose committee handles immigration matters, said Tuesday on CNN that the request was "a slap in the face to the taxpayers of the United States." He said in a separate statement that Republicans would support changes to current law and additional funding, but that it wouldn't work "if President Obama continues to ignore the law."
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said at a press conference on Wednesday that he was waiting to see what the Appropriations Committee and a working group on the border crisis said after reviewing the request. But he indicated he didn't think the request would be sufficient to fix the situation.
"If we don't secure the border, nothing is going to change," he said. "If you look at the president's request, it's all about continuing to deal with the problem. We've got to do something about sealing the border and ending this problem so that we can begin to move on with the bigger question of immigration reform."
One problem is that Obama isn't thwarting the law by declining to immediately deport unaccompanied minors from Central America -- he's following it. The influx has been so difficult for the government to handle in part because of a 2008 law that gives special protections to unaccompanied minors and keeps those from countries other than Mexico and Canada from simply being questioned and immediately sent back. Instead, children are transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services, although they remain eligible for deportation.
The process is expensive, particularly given the number of children who have been apprehended at the border, and $1.8 billion of the funding request would go to HHS to care for those minors.
Many Republicans said they could not support a funding increase unless there is also a change to the law that gives protection to unaccompanied minors. The Obama administration has indicated it may pursue such a change, but did not send a request for the legislation when it asked for increased funds on Tuesday.
"I'm all for changing that law and sending them back," Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said on CNN's "Crossfire" Tuesday. "I'm opposing that money because the money is going to be asked for again next year."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters in a meeting at his office Wednesday that "there will be a vote" on a bill dealing with the border issue but declined to get into specifics. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told The Huffington Post that they are already holding preliminary conversations with Republicans to see what they "might be willing to accept."
Don Stewart, the spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said Republicans want to see legislative language from the White House for more specifics on how the money would be spent.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), notably a member of the group that drafted a comprehensive immigration reform bill last year, said he would not support a funding increase unless other changes were attached.
"Unless there are provisions in that legislation which would bring an end to this humanitarian crisis, then I cannot support it," he said. "I cannot vote for a provision which will then just perpetuate an unacceptable humanitarian crisis that's taking place on our southern border."
Howard Fineman contributed reporting.
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