White House requests billions more in border funding from Congress

Migrant families walked from the Rio Grande River near McAllen, Texas, just before being apprehended by Border Patrol in March.
Migrant families walked from the Rio Grande River near McAllen, Texas, just before being apprehended by Border Patrol in March.Eric Gay/Asscoiated Press/File/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The White House asked Congress on Wednesday to allocate $4.5 billion in emergency funds for the southwestern border as federal agencies struggle to house and cope with the influx of asylum-seekers coming into the United States.

The request, which includes about $3.3 billion to house unaccompanied migrant children, feed and care for migrants in custody, and staff processing centers, is unlikely to pass without changes in the Democratic-controlled House. It will not halt the surge of Central American families crossing the border, but it would allow the Department of Homeland Security to add beds at migrant processing facilities and at detention centers.


The request also includes more than $2.8 billion — over half of the money requested — for the Department of Health and Human Services to care for more than 23,000 unaccompanied children.

Democrats have already questioned the billions of dollars that President Trump previously requested in his budget for border security and are embroiled in a lawsuit over Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency to build a border wall.

But Russell T. Vought, acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, warned in a letter to lawmakers that if the request was not fulfilled, other resources — including money for refugees and victims of human trafficking and torture — within the Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies would have to be tapped for services at the southwestern border.

Funds for children could run out as early as June, he said.

“The additional resources hereby requested will enable federal agencies to address the immediate humanitarian and security crisis at the southern border of the United States,” Vought wrote.

“Because the need for this funding arises from an unprecedented rise in the numbers and composition of the migrant population,” he added, “these resources should be provided as emergency funding.”


House Democrats are likely to agree to some of the funds, one Democratic aide said, particularly the requests for food, diapers, and fundamental necessities for migrants taken into custody. But some enforcement funding plans — including money for detention beds, which could help the administration detain more unauthorized immigrants — are likely to be nonstarters.

Representative Nita Lowey, Democrat of New York and chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said that much of the request was designed to “double down on cruel and ill-conceived policies.”

“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,” Lowey said in a statement, adding that the committee would review the request and work with the White House and Senate “where possible.”

The new request for border funds comes before Congress has been able to agree on a much larger emergency package for people recovering from the onslaught of natural disasters last year.

But Homeland Security officials have said for months that their facilities and resources have been pushed beyond capacity because of a surge in Central American families seeking asylum at the border.

Kevin McAleenan, acting Homeland Security secretary, said that the current processing facilities at the border were built for single adult males, but now house more asylum-seeking families and unaccompanied children, requiring longer processing times.

None of the requested funds — includings $1.1 billion for operations and $178 million in mission support for personnel and resources — will go to construction of a wall at the southwestern border, an official said.