The New York Times editorial board has penned a Monday opinion piece suggesting that Congress should pony up and give the White House funding to deal with the crisis at the southern border.
The Times insists, however, that there’s no national security threat at hand – “no invasion of murderers, drug cartels or terrorists. No matter how often Mr. Trump delivers such warnings, they bear little resemblance to the truth.”
Instead, the crisis is that of overcrowding, disease and chaos at the border, as the federal government’s ability to deal with the massive influx has been severely strained to the point of buckling.
“Something needs to be done. Soon,” writes the Times.
Congress, Give Trump His Border Money
No, it’s not for building the wall.
President Trump is right: There is a crisis at the southern border. Just not the one he rants about.
There is no pressing national security threat — no invasion of murderers, drug cartels or terrorists. No matter how often Mr. Trump delivers such warnings, they bear little resemblance to the truth.
But as record numbers of Central American families flee violence and poverty in their homelands, they are overwhelming United States border systems, fueling a humanitarian crisis of overcrowding, disease and chaos. The Border Patrol is now averaging 1,200 daily arrests, with many migrants arriving exhausted and sick. Last week, a teenage boy from Guatemala died in government custody, the third death of a minor since December. As resources are strained and the system buckles, the misery grows.
Something needs to be done. Soon. Unfortunately, political gamesmanship once again threatens to hold up desperately needed resources.
On Wednesday, the White House sent Congress a request for $4.5 billion in emergency funding to help manage the surge. In a letter to lawmakers, the acting director of the White House’s budget office, Russell Vought, sought to convey the scope of the challenge. “In February, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) encountered more than 76,000 illegal border crossers and inadmissible aliens, and in March that number exceeded 100,000 — the highest monthly level in more than a decade,” Mr. Vought wrote. He described what he said were “alarming numbers” of women and children jammed into Border Patrol stations never intended as long-term shelters.
Funding for vital services is not expected to last through the fiscal year, Mr. Vought said. Most urgently, the program that deals with unaccompanied minors is expected to run dry next month, requiring resources to be diverted from other programs and leading to a further deterioration in conditions.
While the request is light on specifics, it does draw some important outlines. Nearly three-quarters of the funds, $3.3 billion, would be earmarked for humanitarian needs, with much of it flowing to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency responsible for unaccompanied minors. None of the money would go toward Mr. Trump’s border wall.
Several hundred million dollars would, however, go toward shoring up border security operations, including increasing the number of detention beds overseen by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. This, for Democrats, is a nonstarter.
The debate over the permissible size of the detainee population has grown white hot. Democrats contend that the president brought this housing crisis on himself with his push to scoop up as many noncitizens as possible, rather than prioritizing those considered dangerous, as previous administrations did. Instead of asking for more money, Democrats assert, ICE should redirect existing resources to the border.
Detention beds were a sticking point in this winter’s budget negotiations as well, ultimately resulting in a convoluted compromiseno one seemed to understand. Since then, the issue has festered as the administration has adopted policies that will further swell the detainee population, such as last month’s order for immigration judges to keep more migrants locked up while their asylum claims are processed, rather than allow them to post bail.
The Democratic chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, Nita Lowey of New York, said that the administration was seeking billions of dollars to “double down on cruel and ill-conceived policies” and bail out ICE for locking up more migrant families than it could humanely accommodate. But until better policies are in place, Democrats need to find a way to provide money for adequate shelter.
Democrats have other, lower-level concerns as well, such as ensuring that the Office of Refugee Resettlement is not used as an enforcement agency or that the contractors and facilities used to care for children meet certain standards. As a condition of handing over additional billions, they are likely to push for at least modest increases in oversight. They should aim to keep such tinkering as narrow and targeted as possible. If the White House is serious about needing the money, it should be prepared to agree to a few conditions — and convey the need for flexibility to Senate Republicans.
As for the clash over detention beds: Knowing how toxic the matter is, the White House would have been wise to leave it out of a request it needs to advance quickly, postponing that battle for a another day. Both sides need to dial back the fighting words, resist the temptation to finger-point and find a creative way through this minefield.