Mikulski, Democrats cut immigrant funding proposal

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski will introduce an emergency spending bill on Wednesday to deal with the flow of minors crossing the border that slashes $1 billion from President Barack Obama's original request but that does not include provisions to speed deportations of the children.

The Obama administration had requested $3.7 billion to deal with what it has described as a humanitarian crisis at the border and additional money for wildfire suppression in western states. Mikulski, who as chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee will be a key player in the negotiations, noted that not all of that money is needed in the current year.

"The total amount of the president's request will be needed. However, based on a review of what is needed in calendar year 2014 to meet needs at the border, the bill reduces the president's request by $1 billion," the Maryland Democrat said in a statement.

By cutting the size of the request, Senate Democrats are hoping to win support from Republicans and some centrist Democrats, but GOP lawmakers are seeking other changes -- such as offsetting the cost of the new spending with cuts elsewhere -- and it's not clear whether Congress will come to an agreement on the measure before it adjourns next week for its month long summer recess.

House Republicans have also sought a change to a 2008 human trafficking law that would allow the administration leeway to deport some of the children more quickly -- an idea the White House has said it supports. But noting that "this is a funding bill," Mikulski said the Senate bill would not include changes on immigration policy.

The proposal includes $615 million for fire suppression and $225 million to accelerate production of Israel's anti-missile system.

Federal officials estimate 57,000 children have entered the United States illegally since October, more than double the number during the same period a year ago. Many are fleeing violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

Obama officials have said that two of the agencies responsible for handling the border situation -- Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- will run out of money later this summer without the emergency funds. But the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office concluded this week that the agency responsible for sheltering the children, the Department of Health and Human Services, would spend only about $25 million of the money this summer.

"The United States has an obligation to help resolve these crises, but is running out of money," Mikulski said. "The costs are real and urgent."

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