President Barack Obama asked Congress on Tuesday for $3.7 billion to help cope with the influx of unaccompanied children illegally crossing the southern border.
The money will pay for additional border patrol agents, more beds at detention centers, an increase in prosecution of smuggling networks and a media campaign to discourage parents from sending their children on what the White House calls a “dangerous journey.”
The administration described its approach as an aggressive and cost effective response across the federal government that will allow the United States to try to prevent and more quickly process the cases.
“We’re taking an aggressive approach on both sides of the border,” said a White House official with knowledge of the situation, but not authorized to speak publicly.
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The administration had been expected to ask Congress for emergency spending of more than $2 billion to deal with the crisis, but the formal request Tuesday was nearly double.
“There was speculation about a $2 billion number -- that was a number we never validated or confirmed,” said a second White House official with knowledge of the situation, but not authorized to speak publicly.
The official said they hoped lawmakers on Capitol Hill would treat the request as the “emergency that it is” and approve the request. The money would be part of the 2014 fiscal budget.
About 52,000 minors without their parents have been caught at the southwest border since October.
White House officials said they hope to “significantly reduce” the wait time for the cases to be processed but did not indicate a target timeline.
Obama is also asking lawmakers to allow Jeh Johnson, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, authority to treat unaccompanied children from Central American countries, such as Guatemala, Hondorus and El Salvador, the same as Mexico and allow them to be returned.
The administration is focused on proper care of the children while appling the law, the first White House official said.
Obama announced the request hours before traveling to Texas to raise money fo Democrats and speaking about the economy. He does not plan a trip to the border, but Obama is likely to meet with Republican Gov. Rick Perry of Texas about border security, according to the Austin American Statesman. A White House official said they are awaiting form a formal response from Perry’s office.
“We’re not worried about those optics...and that's simply because the president is very aware of the situation that exists on the southwest border,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday.
Jeh Johnson, secretary of homeland security, has traveled to the border five times and will travel back this week, according to the White House.
“I think the problem speaks for itself when the president, who would prefer to hang out with campaign donors and other political supporters, would decide not to have any interaction with those that are directly affected by his failed policies - in this case the failed immigration policies that led to a full-blown humanitarian crisis,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas said on the Senate floor Monday.
Obama is also asking $615 million to combat wildfires.
William Douglas contributed to this report.