WASHINGTON - The US Congress has passed two measures to stem the flow of Central American children into the United States despite the strong objections of President Barack Obama, who vowed to address the crisis unilaterally.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives late Friday approved allocating $694 million (S$865 million) to deal with the influx of minors into the United States from Mexico. The measure was approved 223-189.
The amount is much less than the $3.7 billion Obama requested to ease what he has called an "urgent humanitarian situation." The House measure would increase funding for the Border Patrol and the National Guard, increase the number of immigration judges, and change a 2008 anti-trafficking law so the child migrants can be whisked home without deportation hearings.
House speaker John Boehner described the measure as "a responsible bill" that will "help secure our border and ensure the safe and swift return of these children to their home countries." If Obama "needs these resources, he will urge Senate Democrats to put politics aside, come back to work and approve our bill," Boehner said.
The House also passed a measure gutting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme, a 2012 Obama administration scheme protecting young people who came to the United States illegally as children and who grew up in the country. The bill was approved 216-192.
In a statement, the White House said the bill could result in the deportation of hundreds of thousands of such youths, describing them as "Americans in every way but on paper." House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi called the vote "unconscionable." Neither measure would likely be approved in the Senate - already on its five-week summer recess - or signed into law by the president in their current version. No further congressional action on immigration is expected until September.
Obama vows unilateral action
Since October, more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors have been detained crossing the US-Mexico border, about three-quarters of them from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, Central American countries where youths are fleeing poverty and gang violence.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has warned that Immigration and Customs Enforcement could run out of money by mid-August, leaving Border Patrol cash-strapped by September as a result.
The House votes came just hours after Obama said he would redeploy existing resources to tackle the border crisis because of Congress's inaction.
"I'm going to have to act alone, because we don't have enough resources," Obama said. "We've run out of money." Obama reiterated that the government required an urgent injection of funding to carry out basic functions at the border, which has been overwhelmed by the tide of young immigrants seeking to enter the United States illegally.
The Republicans "say we need more resources, we need tougher border security in this area, where these unaccompanied children are showing up. We agree," Obama said.
"We put forward a supplemental to give us the additional resources in funding to do exactly what they say we should be doing. And they can't pass the bill." Obama had called on Congress to release $3.7 billion to increase border security and hire additional immigration court judges.
But late Thursday, a $2.7 billion package proposed by Democrats in the Senate failed during a procedural vote.
The border crisis has emerged as a hot-button topic ahead of the November mid-term elections, where control of the Senate is at stake.
US politicians widely agree that federal immigration laws badly need reforming, but disagree sharply on what needs to be done.