White House Funding Request for Child Migrants Dissatisfies Immigrants' Rights Advocates

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Border Patrol agents watch as demonstrators picket against the possible arrivals of undocumented migrants who may be processed at the Murrieta Border Patrol Station in Murrieta, California July 1, 2014.

The White House Tuesday launched its most concrete response so far to the influx of unaccompanied child migrants from Central America with a $3.7 billion funding request to Congress to bolster border operations. But the administration’s approach to the long simmering crisis at the border has drawn dissatisfaction from immigration advocates who say the government is leaning too heavily on border enforcement and deportation.  

The requested $3.7 billion in emergency funds -- a considerable increase from initial reports of $2 billion -- would be allocated among the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department to bolster enforcement operations and expedite immigration court proceedings. The funds would provide extra detention facilities, immigration judges and overtime pay for security agents at the U.S.-Mexican border where more than 52,000 unaccompanied children, mostly from Central American countries, have crossed into the United States since October.

The emergency appropriations request is the Obama administration’s most comprehensive response yet to the sharply increasing number of unaccompanied child migrants, who are concentrated in the Rio Grande Valley of southern Texas. Reports have revealed detention centers have stretched their resources, leaving children in overcrowded cells in unsanitary conditions. Meanwhile, immigration courts, already facing a severe backlog of cases, have been swamped.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been vocal in criticizing President Obama’s approach to the issue, saying the administration has not done enough to stem the flow of migrants. He called on the president to put National Guard troops on the border to assist Border Patrol agents.

“The rapid influx of illegal immigrants has strained border resources that were already insufficient to the task at hand,” he said last week.

But immigrants’ rights advocates say the funding request reflects an enforcement-heavy approach that will do little to solve the problem in the long run.

“Enforcement is not the issue. This is a humanitarian crisis,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. Burke said the White House’s proposed $64 million to the Department of Justice, which it says would provide 40 additional immigration judge teams, is a welcome development, but has taken a back seat to the administration’s other priorities of beefing up enforcement.

“We need to put more emphasis on due process and those kinds of resources,” she said. “The administration talked about deterrence and enforcement and foreign cooperation, and then they talked about capacity. Sending these children back is not the answer.”

Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, based in El Paso, said the Obama administration’s focus on repatriation and border security funding would not address the root causes of the influx.

 “If the U.S. really wanted to deal with the due process of immigrants, it would deal with the root problem of development in the Central American countries,” he said. “But that is not part of the proposal. At the end of the day, this is mostly enforcement that we are seeing. There is no immigration reform, there is no understanding of the kids’ needs, and there is no development program.”

The White House proposal allocated $300 million to the State Department for cooperation with Central American governments on efforts to repatriate and reintegrate migrants and to “address the underlying root causes driving migration, i.e., creating the economic, social, governance, and citizen security conditions to address factors that are contributing to significant increases in migration to the United States.” However, the language offers no further specificity on what programs the money would fund.

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