CAPITOL HILL - President Barack Obama’s request for $3.7 billion in emergency funds to deal with the humanitarian crisis of an influx of unaccompanied children at the U.S. border with Mexico is dominating discussion on Capitol Hill.
Democrats are calling for immediate action to fulfill his request, while most Republicans are blaming the Democratic president for the crisis and asking why he is not heading to the border.
House Speaker John Boehner met with members of his Republican caucus Wednesday to discuss the president’s request for emergency supplemental funds to deal with the child immigrant situation on the southwest border.
Sources inside the closed meeting say Boehner told members the House needs to act on the request before leaving for a long August recess.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Boehner said a group of Republicans who have been focusing on immigration issues and the House Appropriations Committee are reviewing the request, and that he will wait for their input. But he also again called for tougher action on border security:
“If we don’t secure the border, nothing is going to change," he said. "If you look at the president’s request, it is all about continuing to deal with the problem. We have got to do something about sealing the border and ending this problem so that we can begin to move on with the bigger question of immigration reform.”
House Democrats held a separate meeting, and their leaders came out calling for immediate action to comply with the president’s request.
“Yes, we need to pass this supplemental so that we can address the humanitarian crisis of children — these are children — who are coming across as refugees because of the violence they are facing in their homelands,” said Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY).
Homeland Security officials say the vast majority of an estimated 52,000 unaccompanied children who have crossed the border into the U.S. this year come from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where drug-related violence has escalated.
President Obama is visiting Texas for talks on the border issue Wednesday, but is not planning on traveling to the border.
A number of Republican senators condemned the president for this on the Senate floor, including John Cornyn of Texas.
“How can you have a humanitarian crisis, as the White House has called this, and not want to go see it for yourself? Maybe you will actually learn something?" he asked.
Obama administration officials say a number of top-level officials have recently visited border facilities housing the children, and that the president is well informed on conditions there.
The president has said he will take executive action on the larger issue of immigration reform because the Republican-led House of Representatives has not allowed a vote on comprehensive immigration reform legislation.
The U.S. Senate passed immigration reform legislation one year ago.