The White House asked Congress on Wednesday for $4.5 billion more in emergency funding to address a surge of migrants at the southern border.
In doing so, the administration acknowledged that President Trump's emergency declaration to divert taxpayer money for a yet-to-be-built border wall cannot address the growing humanitarian challenge on the ground, which now requires additional government funding.
The president and his aides previously insisted the February declaration was necessary to address a “humanitarian and national security crisis.” But senior administration officials speaking on background told reporters Wednesday that those funds were never intended to — and could not — be used for for anything other than barrier construction.
“The national emergency is taking funds within the scope of Department of Defense authority and shifting them to the wall,” one senior official said. “Dealing with the raw humanitarian needs of families and unaccompanied alien children is outside the scope of their authority.”
The bulk of the administration’s supplemental request seeks $3.3 billion for humanitarian assistance, including facilities to process and temporarily house migrants; clothing, diapers and baby formula; and increased shelter capacity and bed space, officials said.
Of that, more than $2.8 billion would go to the Department of Health and Human Services, charged with the care of unaccompanied migrant children, to increase its capacity by about 23,600 beds, according to the White House request.
The Homeland Security Department would receive $273 million for processing centers at the border, growing its bed capacity by 3,500.
Another $1.1 billion would go toward border operations, including paying for personnel, operations against human smuggling and trafficking operations, and additional detention beds under Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a source of contention in the negotiations over the spending agreement Trump signed in February.
Another $178 million would be used to upgrade information technology.
The Justice Department would get $155 million to accommodate "significant increases in detained populations," according to a letter from the Office of Management and Budget outlining the request.
The administration’s request also includes $377 million for the Defense Department for National Guard and active duty troops to provide further logistical and intelligence support at the border, including more aerial surveillance.
Separately, the Defense Department recently said it would be deploying to the border an additional 320 military personnel, including cooks, drivers and lawyers, at a cost of more than $7 million. While Pentagon policy and U.S. law prohibit military personnel from directly interacting with migrants or domestic law enforcement, those roles will bring troops into regular, direct contact with migrants for the first time since Trump's border deployment began in October.
None of the requested funds will go toward border barrier construction.
Despite the president’s emergency declaration, so far during his two years in office not a single new mile of border wall has been added to the roughly 700 miles of barrier built under his predecessors.
“The wall represents a critical part of border security and migrant management solutions,” another official said on the Wednesday call. “Additional resources, however, are needed immediately to address what is an emergency in its short term and until the wall has been completed.”
After a partial government shutdown over the president’s demands for billions for his long-promised border wall, Trump signed a spending bill into law on Feb. 15 that reopened crucial homeland security agencies — and at the same time, declared a national emergency to get around Congress’ spending limits for his oft-touted border barrier.
Lawmakers and other critics opposed the emergency declaration, arguing a border wall would do little to deter primarily Central American families seeking asylum at official ports of entry or immediately turning themselves in to border authorities upon crossing elsewhere along the border.
Trump and his closest officials have been frustrated by the failure of the administration’s policies to deter migration. In February and March, U.S. authorities apprehended more people at the border than they have in a decade, with a majority of them asylum seekers and families from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
Both Democratic lawmakers and members of the president’s party also took issue with what they viewed as a dangerous incursion on Congress’ constitutional power of the purse, and expressed open concern with taking funds from the Department of Defense for the president’s wall.
The White House warned Wednesday that agencies overwhelmed by the surge will soon use up their funding, estimating that HHS will run out as soon as June. In a Tuesday hearing, acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan told congressional appropriators that the federal government’s third largest department — with a $50-billion budget — will tap out before September, the end of the current fiscal year.
But administration officials are unlikely to find a warm reception for the supplemental request on the Hill, given the president’s end run of Congress’ spending authority.
Immediately after the release of the request on Wednesday, House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.) said House Democrats will “carefully review” the request, but rejected what she called “bailing out ICE” for overspending.
“Through its callous immigration policies, the Trump administration has contributed to a humanitarian emergency on the border,” Lowey said in a statement. “However, 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.”