The Administration Is Shifting $405M to Deal With the Border Crisis. Is It Enough?

Jeh Johnson speaks after he was nominated by US President Barack Obama to be the next Homeland Security secretary during a press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on October 18, 2013 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
Rachel Roubein
Aug. 5, 2014, 1:46 p.m.

Law­makers came up empty-handed after weeks of du­el­ing over just how much money should be spent at the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der. Now, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is cop­ing with the fal­lout.

The po­ten­tial short-term solu­tion comes in the form of a money trans­fer, as the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cur­ity is look­ing to re­pro­gram $405 mil­lion to ad­dress the tens of thou­sands of un­ac­com­pan­ied minors cross­ing the bor­der — a sum even less than the bill House Re­pub­lic­ans passed Fri­day ap­prov­ing $694 mil­lion in emer­gency funds.

As the ad­min­is­tra­tion called on Con­gress to pass a $3.7 bil­lion clean emer­gency sup­ple­ment­al bill last month, Home­land Se­cur­ity Sec­ret­ary Jeh John­son warned law­makers of the rami­fic­a­tions of a fu­ture with no ad­di­tion­al money to ad­dress what has been dubbed a hu­man­it­ari­an crisis at the bor­der. U.S. Im­mig­ra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment and U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion would run out of money in mid-Au­gust and mid-Septem­ber, re­spect­ively, John­son re­peatedly said.

With the House and the Sen­ate in re­cess and far from an agree­ment, DHS plans to trans­fer funds from sev­er­al pro­grams, which Re­u­ters ini­tially re­por­ted and de­part­ment spokes­wo­man Mar­sha Ca­t­ron con­firmed:

  • $267.6 mil­lion from the Fed­er­al Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency’s dis­aster re­lief fund of roughly $11.3 bil­lion;
  • $31.5 mil­lion from the Coast Guard, which could post­pone main­ten­ance pro­jects for ves­sels;
  • $34.7 mil­lion from the Trans­port­a­tion Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion, which could delay the up­keep of its avi­ation se­cur­ity screen­ing equip­ment; and
  • $70.5 mil­lion in in­tern­al re­align­ment of Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion’s pri­or­it­ies, shift­ing money to the bor­der.

Without more money, the ad­min­is­tra­tion be­lieves ICE would have been un­able to trans­fer chil­dren to the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment’s care, cre­ate new places for mi­grants to stay and be pro­cessed, and con­tin­ue to fly adults with chil­dren back home.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has made pro­gress, Ca­t­ron wrote in an email, and the num­ber of un­ac­com­pan­ied chil­dren cross­ing the bor­der did de­crease last month.

“But without help from Con­gress,” she wrote, “DHS simply does not have the re­sources we need and have had to make tough choices.”

The re­pro­gram­ming is much-needed, said Wendy Young, pres­id­ent of Kids in Need of De­fense. Yet it serves as a short-term fix and ex­poses how un­der­fund­ing agen­cies leaves them with little room to grapple with un­ex­pec­ted chal­lenges.

“It’s def­in­itely an emer­gency act that’s ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial,” Young said. “It prob­ably won’t re­solve the over­all sys­tem­ic is­sues, so let’s hope Con­gress starts talk­ing to each oth­er.”¦

“Re­pro­gram­ming is al­ways rough. There’s al­ways an ele­ment of rob­bing Peter to pay Paul go­ing on.”

The rerouted money is a far cry from Pres­id­ent Obama’s re­quest of $3.7 bil­lion. It’s dra­mat­ic­ally less than the $2.7 bil­lion pro­pos­al that failed in the Sen­ate and even the $694 mil­lion bill the House passed.

“It begs a big ques­tion,” said An­gela Kel­ley of the Cen­ter for Amer­ic­an Pro­gress, “be­cause you’re see­ing a massive short­fall of what they were ask­ing and what they could pos­sibly get from re­pro­gram­ming.”

That ques­tion — How long will this Band-Aid last? — doesn’t have a defin­it­ive an­swer, said Kel­ley, the cen­ter’s vice pres­id­ent for im­mig­ra­tion policy.

“I think it’s all be­ing writ­ten as we speak,” she said.

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