Obama said in a letter to Congressional leaders that U.S. border agencies faced a “significant” rise in arrests of young people from Central America, some of whom were victims of violent crime, abuse and extortion by human smuggling networks.
The sudden flow of illegal child migrants has injected new venom into the debate between Obama and House Republicans over his calls for a sweeping reform of the U.S. immigration system.
Obama asked for more resources to send to the southwest border, which will speed up removal proceedings for unlawful immigrants.
The move will ensure that deportations are handled as humanely as possible, while still ensuring the protection of asylum seekers and refugees, Obama wrote.
The president asked for additional authority for the Department of Homeland Security to process and remove unaccompanied child migrants from nations like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, who transit through Mexico. Obama also wants to surge immigration judges to the area and to do more to crack down on criminal and smuggling networks.
The request, which senior officials said privately at the weekend would likely top $2 billion, will also include funds for Central American nations to reintegrate returned migrants.
Since October, 52,000 unaccompanied children aged under 17 have been detained crossing the border, twice the number from the same period a year ago.
Fleeing violence in their home countries, many are lured by false rumors of “permisos,” or residence permits for minors, that Republican critics argue are fueled by what they say is Obama’s pro-immigration message.
The uproar has forced Obama to personally step in.
“Our message absolutely is, don’t send your children unaccompanied, on trains or through a bunch of smugglers,” Obama told ABC News on Thursday.
“If they do make it, they’ll get sent back.”