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Posted at 4:45 p.m. on July 22, 2014
Updated 5:54 p.m. | “Doing nothing in Congress is not an option,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Tuesday, as the clock ticks down out for Congress to provide emergency funding to address the influx of migrant children at the Texas border.
Johnson echoed a warning that he stressed at a July 10 Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, saying that the emergency funding from President Barack Obama is critical to addressing the crisis.
“At the current burn rate, given the capacity we’ve had to surge to deal with this issue, Immigration and Customs Enforcement will run out of money in August. Customs and Border Protection will run out of money in mid September,” Johnson said at a press conference at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters Tuesday afternoon.
But Congress faces a tight deadline to address the supplemental funding for the border crisis as lawmakers are leaving for August recess next week.
Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, blamed Democrats Tuesday for the uncertainty surrounding the emergency appropriations. He argued that the White House and congressional Democrats have sent mixed messages about changing a 2008 human trafficking law.
The law, which stipulates that children from contiguous countries can opt for a voluntary deportation, is at the center of the debate over the supplemental bill.
Republicans argue that changing the law so children from other countries can self-deport would speed up the extradition process for the tens of thousands of migrant children at the border. However, many Democrats oppose changing the law and argue that doing so will weaken provisions meant to protect children.
Johnson said Tuesday that the Obama administration is open to changing the 2008 law. “The administration has asked for a change in law,” he said, “and we’re in active discussions with Congress right now about doing that.”
Although Johnson addressed the debate over the 2008 law, he did not directly address another point of contention over the supplemental funding: the price tag. The president asked for $3.7 billion, but the Republican proposal is expected to be less.
Johnson did not say whether his department could deal with the crisis should Congress provide less money than expected. The Homeland Security secretary only described the $1.5 billion designated to his department, adding, “So the funding we’ve requested is very targeted at detention, deterrence and removal.”
Deputy Attorney General James Cole joined Johnson at the press conference, and stressed that additional funding from Congress could help the Department of Justice work with the countries at the center of this crisis.
“We also need to build a capacity of our counterparts in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to address the violence, particularly gang violence, that encourages migration to the United States,” said Cole.
He said the DOJ can participate in “exchanges in expertise” and congressional funding can send federal prosecutors and law enforcement personnel to those countries as “long-term resident advisers.”
“We’re hopeful that the Congress will fully fund these capacity building programs in Central America,” Cole said.
But lawmakers must first come to an agreement on the emergency funding request. House and Senate appropriators and the House GOP task force are expected to reveal their proposals Wednesday.