[Updated 4:30 p.m.] President Obama vowed Monday to take executive action on immigration to address the surge of immigrants flooding across the Texas border and to fill a void he says has been left by House Republicans' refusal to pass immigration reform.
First, Mr. Obama will issue a directive to border authorities to move resources currently stationed in the US interior to the Mexico border.
Obama also announced that he has asked Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to prepare recommendations for how further to use executive authority to address immigration. He said he expects those recommendations by the end of the summer and that he will act on those recommendations immediately if Congress remains deadlocked on immigration reform.
The announcement came on the same day that Obama also urged Congress to authorize a “surge of resources” – said to total $2 billion – to strengthen the Southwest border and to shelter and process the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children who have flooded that border since October.
In Monday’s letter to congressional leaders, the president deemed the crisis an “urgent humanitarian situation.” He indicated that the emergency supplemental appropriation legislation would be used to support:
- Resources to shelter and process those awaiting immigration hearings.
- The aggressive prosecution of criminal networks that smuggle children into the United States for profit.
- A “significant increase” in immigration judges to expedite processing and deportation of border-crossers.
- Deterrence strategies.
"This includes fulfilling our legal and moral obligation to make sure we appropriately care for unaccompanied children who are apprehended, while taking aggressive steps to surge resources to our Southwest border to deter both adults and children from this dangerous journey, increase capacity for enforcement and removal proceedings, and quickly return unlawful migrants to their home countries,” Mr. Obama wrote.
The additional measures could cost America an additional $2 billion, an anonymous White House official told Reuters on Sunday.
In 2013, the government spent $3.5 billion on securing the border – more than double the amount spent in 2003 but $82 million less than the highest allocation, in 2011, according to US Customs and Border Protection data.
Since October, more than 52,000 unaccompanied children have been caught illegally crossing the Southwest border, twice the number apprehended during the same period a year ago, according to US Customs and Border Protection. The Rio Grande Valley Sector along the Texas border with Mexico has experienced the heaviest flow of children, with more than 37,000 minors apprehended since October – nearly triple the number seen during the same period the year before.
The southern Texas border patrol has been overwhelmed in managing the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children – mostly from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador – who have crossed the border since October 2013.
Until the emergency designation of three military facilities as shelters for undocumented children this month, the US had only one detention facility for children and families, the Monitor’s Mark Sappenfield reported Sunday. This means that many families caught illegally crossing the border were released on their own recognizance until the backlogged courts could hear their case.
Immigration advocates, already weary of Congress's unwillingness to pass comprehensive immigration reform, offered sharp criticism of the president’s focus on expedition of deportations.
"President Obama is asking Congress to change the law to enable the government to inflict expedited removal on unaccompanied children. That is simply unconscionable," Leslie Holman, incoming president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told the Associated Press. "No matter what you call it, rapid deportations without any meaningful hearing for children who are rightly afraid of the violence and turmoil from which they fled is wrong, and contradicts the fundamental values of this nation."
Republicans, on the other hand, have been supportive of stricter border measures. "I think ... we have to be humanitarian at the same time – let them know that if they do come, they cannot stay here. Otherwise, we'll never stop the flow," Rep. Michael McCaul (R) of Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation."