Administration Officials Defend Funding Request To Stem Border Crisis

President Obama has asked for $3.7 billion to deal with the southern border crisis. There are predictions the number of unaccompanied children entering the U.S. could reach 90,000 by October.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Let's look more closely at the unaccompanied young people crossing the U.S. border. It's a complicated story, and in a moment, our correspondents field some frequently asked questions.

MONTAGNE: We begin with the debate over what to do about the migrant flow. President Obama's request for emergency funds has intensified that debate. Yesterday, two of his cabinet secretaries appeared at a Senate hearing to defend the request.

NPR's Ailsa Chang reports.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Almost half of the president's request for $3.7 billion will go entirely to the care of these children - more beds, medical care, legal services. But Republican Mike Johanns of Nebraska said that means the smuggling groups aren't lying to parents in Central America when they say the U.S. will take care of their kids.

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SENATOR MIKE JOHANNS: Isn't your testimony today, establishing without a shadow of a doubt that that is in fact exactly, precisely what you're going to do when those kids are in your custody?

CHANG: Actually, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell says the emergency funds will enable the U.S. to make the smugglers' promise a false one.

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SYLVIA MATHEWS BURWELL: And the way we do that is by speeding the time with which people go back.

CHANG: White House officials say they've been deporting only about 1,800 unaccompanied children a year. About 57,000 have crossed the border since last October. So there's been a push to boost the removal numbers. But some Democrats, like Dick Durbin of Illinois, urge caution.

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SENATOR DICK DURBIN: What are we returning them to? Honduras, the murder capital of the world, where it is not safe to even have your children outside of your home?

CHANG: A 2008 law requires that children from countries that don't border the U.S. be placed with sponsors while waiting for their immigration hearings. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says he needs more discretion under that law to process deportations more quickly in this situation.

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JEH JOHNSON: A request for discretion, as long as I'm secretary, means a request for the ability to do the right thing.

CHANG: Johnson says the number of unaccompanied children entering the U.S. could reach 90,000 by October.

Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol.

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