Homeland Security and Health Department officials sent a letter to members of Congress Wednesday saying the poor conditions that illegal immigrant children face at the border can only be relieved with an infusion of cash.
Health officials, who under the law are required to take the children, are so overwhelmed that the children are backed up at the border, leaving them sitting in overcrowded facilities or, in the worst of cases, staying outside under a bridge overpass.
As of Monday, the Health Department had just 700 free beds, while Homeland Security reported 1,900 children ready to be Transferred.
Health officials say they’re shipping children out of their care to sponsors at a record-pace, but it’s still not enough to accommodate the overwhelming numbers coming across each day.
Already the dorms that contract with the Health Department to house the kids have been told to cut back on non-essentials, as the government tries to stretch its funds. That move drew complaints from Democrats, but Health Secretary Alex M. Azar II and acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said their budgets are at the breaking point and there aren’t any other options.
New money would pay for more beds to hold children inside the country, and for better facilities at the border.
“If Congress acts quickly to provide the requested supplemental funding to address the border surge, [the department] will be able to restore these services,” the secretaries said in their letter.
Mr. Azar says his department will have to take $167 million from refugees support services and trafficking victims programs if it doesn’t get more money.
Mr. McAleenan said unless his department gets more money it will have to cut funding and shift manpower from the Transportation Security Administration, the Coast Guard, emergency management and other branches.
President Trump has asked Congress for $4.5 billion.
Democrats blocked approval of that money in the disaster spending bill that cleared Congress last week, but Republicans who control the Senate say they’ll try again with a stand-alone bill.
They’re daring Democrats to vote against the money.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Wednesday his party can accept much of Mr. Trump’s request.
“While we may disagree about what has led to this crisis and what changes may be needed to our immigration system, I take issue with claims from across the aisle that Democrats oppose any and all solutions to address the crisis. That’s simply false,” he said.
But he said Democrats won’t agree to some of the president’s items.
He balked at several hundred million dollars earmarked for detention beds to house single adult border crossers and, for the most part, illegal immigrant criminals nabbed in the interior.
And he said Democrats want their own add-ons, such as new rules on how the money can be spent.
Democrats also want to prevent the Health Department from sharing information on sponsors who come forward to take illegal immigrant children with Homeland Security. Sometimes those sponsors live in households with other illegal immigrant targets, and Homeland Security says it should have the ability to deport them when they’re found.
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