Republicans and Democrats in Congress are preparing to move ahead with separate measures to deal with the wave of Central American children flooding the southwest border.
But chances are high that any deal will be derailed by partisan gridlock. Time is running out to reach an agreement; only a handful of days remain before lawmakers leave for their August recess.
President Obama has described the situation as urgent. He is asking Congress for $3.7 billion to shelter the children and families, speed up their deportation proceedings, and prevent future border crossings.
If Congress does not approve the emergency funds, key agencies could run out of money to handle the crisis as soon as next month, top officials say.
Why can’t Congress reach a deal?
The two main stumbling blocks are the amount of money the administration should receive and whether to change a 2008 anti-human trafficking law that would make it easier to deport unaccompanied minors to Central America.
Obama is unlikely to receive the full $3.7 billion he requested from Congress. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) is introducing a proposal Wednesday that would provide $2.73 billion to stem the crisis — an amount that authorizes funding through the end of the year.
House Republican leaders are reportedly seeking $1.5 billion. Republicans have balked at the $1.8 billion Obama requested for the Department of Health and Human Services, which cares for children caught at the border without a parent or guardian. Instead, they want more resources to increase the number of Border Patrol agents and send National Guardsmen to the Rio Grande Valley.
Republicans are demanding that any funding bill also contain changes in the trafficking law that allow for speedier deportations of unaccompanied kids who don't qualify for asylum.
"The American people will not support providing additional money unless you work with both parties to address the causes of this tragedy," House Speaker John Boehner wrote in a letter to Obama on Wednesday.
The White House wants the funding request and policy changes on deportations to be handled separately. Democratic leaders in Congress, however, don't want the law changed, citing concerns it could deny kids the chance to make a legal case to remain in the United States.
Both chambers could vote on their proposals next week. But the impasse is unlikely to be resolved before lawmakers leave Washington for their home districts on August 1.
"Unfortunately, it looks like we’re on a track to do absolutely nothing," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who drafted a bipartisan proposal to change the 2008 law. "That’s a tragedy, not just for us but for all of these children who are being lured to our borders."
Does the government need more money to handle the migrant wave?
The Obama administration says Congress needs to move quickly to avoid leaving key agencies without crucial funding.
“Doing nothing is not an option,” said Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.
More than 57,000 unaccompanied minors and 55,000 adults with children have been caught by Border Patrol since October. The White House said on Monday the flow has tapered off from an average of 355 apprehensions a day in June in the Rio Grande Valley to 150 a day. But two key agencies responding to the crisis, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), are still overwhelmed.
Johnson said ICE could run out of money by mid-August and CBP's funds could be depleted by September after they accelerated their spending to deal with the surge in illegal crossings. Both agencies would receive a combined $1.5 billion under Obama's plan.
"The funding we've requested is very targeted at detention deterrence and removal," Johnson said.
ICE is responsible for transporting unaccompanied minors and detaining and removing adults with children. The agency opened a detention center in Artesia, New Mexico last month to house adults traveling with minors. The total number of immigrants in detention nationwide has increased by roughly 5,000 to between 37,000 and 39,000 during the crisis, according to an agency official.
If the funding is not approved, the Department of Homeland Security "will need to divert other crucial resources from critical programs" to keep ICE and CBP operating through September 30, Mikulaki's office said in a statement. The measure also funds the government's response to the crisis until the end of the year.
Lawmakers could take up the funding proposal again and attempt to reach a deal when they return in September. Most lawmakers believe more money is needed to handle the influx of migrants. But Republicans leaders in the House could have trouble convincing some immigration hardliners in the party to vote for additional funds.
Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.