President Donald Trump on Wednesday asked Congress for $4.5 billion in emergency aid to address the surge of Central American immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The funding request is the first major move by the White House to respond to what it calls a “humanitarian crisis” at the Southern border and intensifies an ongoing funding battle over border security, just four months after the issue led to a paralyzing 35-day government shutdown.
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“As we’ve been saying for months and months, the situation at the border becomes more and more dire each day,“ a senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday. “The bottom line here is that the migration flow and the resulting humanitarian crisis is rapidly overwhelming the federal government’s ability to respond.”
None of the $4.5 billion would be used to build a border wall, the official confirmed.
The Trump administration is seeking $3.3 billion in humanitarian assistance — one area that has attracted bipartisan support.
But Trump also wants $1.1 billion for border operations like detention beds. The administration’s request includes money for an additional 23,600 beds — a polarizing issue for House Democrats and a sticking point in the shutdown battle.
House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said Democrats would carefully review the request but expressed some initial skepticism.
“The Trump administration appears to want much of this $4.5 billion emergency supplemental request to double down on cruel and ill-conceived policies, including bailing out ICE for overspending on detention beds and expanding family detention,” she said in a statement. “Locking up people who pose no threat to the community for ever-longer periods of time is not a solution to the problems at the border.“
Trump has already inflamed Democrats by seeking billions of dollars to build a wall along the Southern border.
After he was denied the funds by Congress, Trump declared a national emergency earlier this year to free up $3.6 billion in military construction funds to build a border wall — prompting lawsuits from more than a dozen states and House Democrats.
Trump also plans to tap $3.1 billion under other statutory authorities: $601 million from a Treasury Department drug forfeiture fund and $2.5 billion from a Department of Defense drug prevention program, in addition to nearly $1.4 billion Congress that has already appropriated.
Separately, Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget request outlined $8.6 billion for border wall construction, teeing up the possibility of another government shutdown when the federal government runs out of money at the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
The White House budget office is stressing urgency, warning that some programs, including the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which deals with unaccompanied migrant children, faces “a significant likelihood” it will exhaust its funding by June.
Without more cash quickly, the administration warned that the Department of Health and Human Services might need to reshuffle funding from other crucial programs, such as human trafficking.
“If Congress fails to provide HHS this additional funding, the expected continuation of current trends may require HHS to divert significant resources from other programs that serve vulnerable populations – such as refugees and victims of trafficking and torture,” the administration wrote.