Immigration officials and Border Patrol agents will run out of money if
At the same time, Sen.
The arrival at the border of tens of thousands of children and teenagers over the last few months has created a political crisis for the administration, which officials have scrambled to contain.
The crisis has sapped the budget, driving up overtime, detention and transportation costs, Johnson told the
Congress is considering President
"At the current burn rate, ICE is going to run out of money at mid-August and we project
If Congress doesn't approve new funds, "we will have to go to a harsh form of reprogramming that will take money away from some vital homeland security programs I am sure members of this committee care a lot about," he said.
Of the $3.7 billion requested, about half, or $1.8 billion, would go to the Department of Health and Human Services to cover the cost of caring for children who are in removal proceedings.
About $1.1 billion would go to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and $433 million would go to Customs and Border Protection, which manages the Border Patrol. The balance would fund an increase in the number of immigration judges and go to
More than 57,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended at the southwest border since October and 90,000 are expected to arrive by the end of the year. Thousands of children and families with children are being held at makeshift shelters in Border Patrol stations and military bases in the U.S.
Lawmakers of both parties were concerned that the cost would continue to go up if the administration can't find a way to persuade families in Central America to stop sending their children to the U.S.
"We are worried about these children," Mikulski said, but middle class families in the U.S., "they are worried about their own children."
"Will this request be the end or will it be the beginning of many new requests for emergency funds?" asked Alabama Sen.
In addition to the funding request, Johnson asked lawmakers to revise a 2008 law that requires the government to provide immigration court hearings for children from countries that do not share a border with the U.S. rather than having border agents return them directly to their home countries.
Those required hearings are delaying deportations of children from Central American countries such as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who make up the largest share of the cross-border surge.
"It would help if the Senate amended the law to treat children the same from a non-contiguous country as a contiguous country," Johnson said.
Feinstein, however, told Johnson that the "exceptional circumstances" provision in the 2008 law could make an amendment unnecessary. The government could adopt a rule that a certain number of children crossing the border per week or per month would constitute an "exceptional circumstance," she said.
Broadening the use of such an exception could help immigration authorities more quickly determine which children have a case for special visas or asylum in the U.S. and which should be returned.
"I hope that this exception is enough to give you what you need in terms of added discretion," Feinstein said. When lawmakers wrote the law, Feinstein said, there were about 5,000 unaccompanied children coming across the border, less than a tenth of the number crossing now.
"I have offered to work with you. I hope the bill does not need to be amended," she said.
Senate Democrats have balked at changing the 2008 law, saying that the additional screening and court proceedings are needed to be sure the U.S. is not sending children to a country where they already have been victims of sex trafficking or gang-related violence.