WASHINGTON — The Obama administration renewed its plea Monday for Congress to provide additional money to deal with the unaccompanied migrant children at the border, even as Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson declared that "the worst is over for now."
The request seemed likely to fall on deaf ears as neither party showed an appetite to revive an issue that's faded from the spotlight as arrivals at the border have dropped dramatically.
Johnson said in a statement that without $1.2 billion in additional funding for 2015, he will be forced to take money from other accounts, such as $405 million moved earlier this summer from the disaster relief fund.
"This reprogramming is not sustainable, and leaves the nation vulnerable to unacceptable homeland security risks," Johnson said.
"Though the worst is over for now, there are still bills to be paid and our border security efforts must be sustained to prevent another spike like we saw this year," he said.
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that the House had already dealt with the issue by agreeing to a smaller sum prior to Congress' five-week summer recess, which ended Monday. "Now, it is up to Senate Democrats to act," said spokesman Michael Steel.
The House Republican bill included policies opposed by Senate Democrats to return migrant kids back home more quickly without hearings, so no deal was ever reached on President Barack Obama's $3.7 billion request for the border, and no final bill passed.
But now that arrivals of Central American children have dropped, lawmakers can avoid addressing the contentious issue with November midterm elections around the corner. Aides in both parties say the issue is on the back burner and looks likely to stay there for the couple weeks Congress is in session ahead of the election. At most the administration might get some additional spending flexibility it's asked for in a temporary government funding measure slated for votes in the next two weeks.
In his statement Johnson noted that only 3,141 unaccompanied kids crossed the border illegally in August, compared with a high of 10,622 in June as the crisis peaked. August's number was the lowest since February 2013.
The administration took a number of steps to respond to the crisis, and Johnson's memo listed some of those, including reassigning immigration judges, speeding removals of adult migrants and launching public relations campaigns meant to discourage people from coming. But much of the reduction is seasonal as the summer heat has traditionally discouraged migrants, and it's not clear how much of an impact the administration's policies had. Experts also say the numbers may start rising again, though likely not until early next year.
The spike on the border pushed the issue near the top of public concerns and it was front-and-center at some congressional town halls earlier in the summer. The attention on the issue helped convince Obama to put off a planned executive order to defer deportations for millions, infuriating immigration advocates.
But other events, including terrorist threats overseas, have now pushed the border crisis from the headlines.