WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is holding off for now on seeking new legal authority to send unaccompanied migrant children back home faster from the Southern border, following criticism that the administration’s planned changes were too harsh.
Instead when Obama formally asks Congress for more than $2 billion in emergency spending today to deal with the border crisis, the request will not be accompanied by the specific legislative changes that the White House has indicated it plans to seek, according to two congressional aides.
White House officials said they still intend to pursue additional authorities to speed the return of the children who’ve been arriving by the thousands, mostly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. But for now the White House request will focus on additional money for immigration judges, detention facilities, legal aid and other items that could address the situation on the border.
An administration official said the White House has already advised the congressional leadership that it wants expanded authorities and said it is still seeking those policy changes. But the official said the request for money would be sent separately.
Decoupling the spending request from the contentious policy changes, which faced pushback from members of Obama’s own party, may give the emergency money a better chance of getting through Congress.
The approach comes after the White House told Congress last week that it would seek “additional authority” for the Homeland Security secretary to quickly return the minors back home. Immigration advocates understood this to mean that the children, who currently have the right to a hearing before an immigration judge, would lose that right and instead would have to make it through an initial screening with a Border Patrol agent.