CHN: President Delays Action on Relief for Immigrants; The Administration’s Request for Money for Children on the Border Goes Unheeded

On September 6, President Obama announced that he would delay issuing an Executive Order (EO) related to undocumented immigrants currently in the United States. In the same statement, he unequivocally affirmed that action would occur after the fall elections. Conservatives in Congress who have consistently worked to block comprehensive immigration reform jumped on the President’s announcement, denouncing it as a political decision. Immigration reform advocates were bitterly disappointed in the delay. Many who have worked on the ground with immigrant populations, both those who have been here for decades and new arrivals, understand that the delay will mean more suffering for immigrant families. Deportations will continue to separate family members and millions remaining here will continue to live in fear.
In explaining his delay, the President cited the shift in public attitude during the summer as the “surge in kids who were showing up at the border, got a lot of attention.” The politicization and polarization of the issue led the President to decide that more groundwork needed to be laid to assure that any action taken will remain in place and to make a clear case to the public for the rationale and legal authority behind an EO. The Administration has held a series of in-person listening sessions as well as a conference call organized by the Coalition on Human Needs with people who provide services to immigrants around the country, seeking input as it determines the scope of the EO and which immigrant populations will be the focus.

Advocates continue to press for bold action by the Administration that will remove the threat of deportation for millions of immigrants, many who have been in the United States for many years working hard to provide for their families.

Although some opponents of immigration reform used the increase in child migrants to claim that the border was “out of control,” that was not the case. The children, many of whom traveled without relatives, were for the most part fleeing from violence and coercion in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. In large numbers, they presented themselves to U.S. border authorities seeking sanctuary. Earlier this summer, the Administration asked Congress to provide $3.7 billion in emergency funding to address the humanitarian crisis of the influx of children and some accompanying adults arriving on the Rio Grande Valley border in Texas. Nearly half ($1.8 billion) of the request would go to the Department of Health and Human Services to provide for shelter, food, education, counseling and ultimately more stable living situations for the children and families. The Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement would receive $1.1 billion for transportation costs associated with relocating the children and detention and/or removal of undocumented adults and children. The Department of Justice would receive $64 million to provide judges and other legal resources to deal with the significant increase in caseloads. The remaining $300 million would go to the Department of State for repatriation efforts and media campaigns targeting potential migrants. In response, the attempt by the Senate to pass a $2.7 billion supplemental bill (S. 2648) failed when Republicans killed the bill just prior to the August recess. The House passed a much smaller $694 million bill (H.R. 5230), but it included policy riders that would, among other things, undercut due process for vulnerable children. The bill would also require cuts in programs elsewhere to pay for its cost. The Administration strongly opposes the House bill (H.R. 5230) while supporting the Senate bill (S. 2648). For more information, see CHN’s August 4 Human Needs Report.

Over the course of the summer, the influx of children has decreased. Advocates note that this is typical in the summer months because of the heat, but caution that the numbers may increase again in the fall. As it has become clear that Congress will not provide supplemental funding to address these needs, many hoped that additional money would be provided in the continuing resolution (CR) that must pass by September 30 to continue funding government programs when the new fiscal year begins on October 1 (see the Appropriations article in this Human Needs Report for more information). However, conservative Republicans are poised to demand restrictive changes to immigration policy in exchange for additional money. So instead, the Administration requested more flexibility to move money within the agencies to deal with the new immigrants. The House version of the CR provides flexibility to both the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services but not to Justice. However, advocates believe that flexibility will not be enough, and that more money will be needed in FY 2015. They hope added funding will be addressed during the lame duck session in December.