Obama administration officials defended their response to the immigration crisis on the Southwest border Wednesday and pledged to get control of the flood of unaccompanied children arriving from Central America.
"We believe we will stem this tide," the officials said in a joint statement prepared for a Senate hearing.
Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Craig Fugate, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas Winkowski appeared before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee a day after President Barack Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency spending to deal with the crisis.
The officials were expected to face questions on the request, which is encountering some resistance from Republicans who believe more wholesale changes are needed. Democrats seem generally receptive to the spending, which would go for more immigration judges, detention facilities, and deterrence efforts, though some say it should focus more on helping the kids than on enforcement.
The officials testifying Wednesday didn't address the spending request in prepared testimony but outlined steps the administration already is taking to get a handle on the crisis, from aiming to increase detention space to working with governments in the region.
The children are coming mostly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, many fleeing cartel violence but also hearing rumors, sometimes from smugglers, that once they arrive in the U.S. they would be allowed to stay. More than 50,000 have arrived already since fall, a number that's expected to rise to 90,000 by the end of this fiscal year. Thousands of families also are coming.
The unexpected immigration spike is overwhelming immigration courts and holding facilities in the Southwest and turning into a major political crisis for the Obama administration.
Obama was in Colorado and Texas Wednesday for fundraisers but had no plans to visit the border, despite criticism from Republicans. The White House did add a meeting on immigration to his schedule, where he was to discuss the border situation with faith leader and Texas officials in Dallas, joined by Gov. Rick Perry.