Trump Wants $4.5 Billion in Emergency Funding for the Border, But Not for His Wall
The practice of blood testing asylum seekers will deter false family asylum cases, or so the Trump administration hopes.
The Trump administration will phase in DNA testing of families applying for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border and has requested billions in federal funding to support child-protection efforts in the region.
A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official told the Washington Examiner Wednesday evening that DNA testing would begin as early as next week. The goal is to identify and prosecute any adults bringing minors across the border who are not their children.
Also Wednesday, the White House requested $4.5 billion in emergency funding from Congress. More than half would go to the management, care and resettlement of migrants under age 18, who’ve crossed unaccompanied into the United States.
This request comes on the same day that officials announced the death of a 16-year-old Guatemalan in the custody of an unaccompanied migrant shelter in Brownsville, Texas.
Efforts to Deter Trafficking Central American Children
The practice of blood testing asylum seekers will deter false family asylum cases, or so the Trump administration hopes. It will also combat the child trafficking opportunity that arises from the priority given to asylum seekers traveling with children.
Families who pass their credible fear interview and have listed a sponsor in the U.S. are often released from immigration custody within three to five days. Their early release in spaces where the Migrant Protection Protocols aren’t enforced is the result of overcrowded immigration detention centers during this spring’s border influx.
As a result, many worry that migrants will claim distant family members or unrelated minors as their children, in order to receive quicker processing and less time in detention during their initial apprehensions by Border Patrol agents. DHS officers will begin to enforce rapid DNA tests on those in custody who claim to be related, producing results in just 90 minutes.
ICE reported it had verified 29 fake families since April 18. Until now, they’ve used written statements and birth certificates to verify relation, but the illegal production of false birth certificates invalidates that strategy.
Billions Needed in Border Assistance
President Trump has proposed a number of reforms to the migrant asylum process this week, highlighting that his immigration resistance stance will be a core element of his re-election campaign.
After a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border at Mexicali/Calexico, the president stated that the U.S. asylum program was experiencing “rampant abuse” and “nearing its breaking point.”
Most remarkably, Trump hopes to drastically shorten the time spent to reach a verdict on each asylum case to just 180 days or less. To do so, the administration will require further immigration judges, prosecutors and courts with the sole focus of asylum arrivals from the southern U.S. border.
But acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan said Tuesday that the department is running out of money after arrivals spiked this April. McAleenan and Attorney General William Barr have less than 90 days to provide a plan to implement this increased processing speed.
Trump brought these reforms in front of lawmakers by requesting $4.5 billion from Congress on Wednesday, May 1, to fund internal and humanitarian efforts at the border. None of the emergency funding will be used on the border wall. $1.1 billion is reserved for operational costs of Border Patrol and ICE, including investigative work into cross-border human smuggling.
The White House reports that Border Patrol sectors have been challenged to find ICE detention centers to transfer those they apprehend. Instead, they are “increasingly pressed into providing critical humanitarian, medical and transportation services for this population.”
On several occasions Border Patrol agents have dropped families with young children in the parking lot of a Greyhound bus station and encouraged them to find a shelter or church in which to spend the night.
Other Funding Allocations
Another $2.8 billion of the request is allocated to the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement. Currently, this office has capacity for about 13,000 minors who reach U.S. Customs Officers without a parent or guardian. These children are kept in facilities meant to provide a safe, more relaxed atmosphere than adult detention centers.
According to the White House, the program Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) will exhaust its resources by June. Vice President Michael Pence issued a statement, which included, “The historic influx of families and UAC is challenging the capacity of the Federal Government to shelter, care for and protect those we encounter, and presents child welfare concerns beyond the treacherous journey that those vulnerable migrants undertake to reach our southern border.”
One facility under the HHS scope is Casa Padre in Brownsville, Texas, where one Guatemalan teenager fell ill last week. The 16-year-old, name undisclosed, was transferred from Casa Padre to the Corpus Christi hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery and later died.
HHS has not released details, but the Guatemalan consulate announced that the illness was related to a brain infection in the frontal lobe. The boy was from the southeastern state of Chiquimula and was traveling with his brother, also a minor.
Officials from the consulate are now working to transfer the boy’s body to his country of origin. This is the first death of a child in HHS shelter custody.
Under the funding proposed, this program could expand its capacity to 23,600 individuals, held in shelters such as Casa Padre, which is the converted space of a former Walmart complex. Most minors currently spend an average of two months in custody before they can be resettled.
Congressional approval of the funding would secure resources for this bed count through the end of 2019.