Obama border funding: Most money to care, feed, transport illegal immigrants; little for deportations

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Byron York,Immigration,Barack Obama,Border Security,Jeh Johnson

It's still a little unclear exactly how much money President Obama will request to deal with the crisis of thousands of families and unaccompanied children crossing the border into the United States illegally. But there are indications the vast majority of the funding will go to caring for the illegal immigrants who are already here -- feeding, housing, and transporting them to new American homes -- while a far smaller amount will go to sending some of those immigrants back to their home countries and preventing future immigrants from crossing into the U.S. illegally.

The president will ask for a large amount of money, perhaps as much as $2 billion, for the Department of Health and Human Services. Most of that will go to care for the more than 50,000 unaccompanied children who have illegally entered the United States in recent months. The law requires that border officials transfer those children to the care of HHS, which is then required to find homes for them, unite them with family members, provide legal assistance, and help them in a variety of other ways. So most of the HHS funding request, whatever it is, will go to the care of illegal immigrants who are already here.

Then there is the administration's request for more money for the Department of Homeland Security, which handles border enforcement. But it appears that most of that money will go to care for -- rather than deport -- the new illegal immigrants.

The Homeland Security funding request will be presented by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson in an appearance on Capitol Hill Wednesday. According to a draft of Johnson's testimony circulating on Capitol Hill, the president will request $1.5 billion for DHS -- divided into $433 million for the Border Patrol and $1.104 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The money will break down like this: Of the $433 million for the Border Patrol, $329 million will be for "operational costs to include care, feeding, and transportation costs of unaccompanied children and family groups," according to the draft testimony. Of the rest of the Border Patrol money, $35 million will go for new detention facilities in Nogales and McAllen, Texas; $29 million for 180 new members of the Border Security Task Force, and $39 million for more surveillance flights by unmanned aircraft.

Then there is the $1.104 billion for ICE. Of that, $995 million will go for "operational costs to include care, feeding, and transportation costs of unaccompanied family groups," according to the draft testimony. Of that $995 million, the testimony says $779 million will go for "6,350 additional family unit beds and related transportation and expedited removal costs for family groups." (It is unclear how much of that $779 million will go to "expedited removal costs," but Hill sources say it is likely the majority of it will be spent on housing.) The rest of the $1.104 billion, a total of $109 million, will go to "support increased efforts to detect and disrupt efforts to smuggle unaccompanied children and family groups across U.S. borders."

What about actually deporting at least some of the thousands who have crossed the border into the United States illegally? That is apparently not a high priority, at least as far as the DHS spending request is concerned. From the draft testimony: "To expedite removal operations, the request also provides $9 million for additional attorneys detailed to accompany judges in the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review and $23 million for 100 enforcement and removal operations (ERO) officers."

So: A total of $1.324 billion ($329 million for the Border Patrol and $995 million for ICE) will go to the "care, feeding, and transportation costs" of the illegal immigrants, while $32 million ($9 million for attorneys and $23 million for removal operations) will go to deportations.

The requests call for an additional $109 million for anti-smuggling operations that might reduce the flow of immigrants in the future. But the DHS request, counted in light of the expected request for the Department of Health and Human Services, is as clear an indication as any that removal of the thousands who have already come here illegally is unlikely to happen in any significant numbers.

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