Roy Blunt urges Congress to approve emergency funds for migrant children shelters

Blunt: Mexico tariffs send message to China

Missouri Republican Roy Blunt said Congress needs to urgently approve emergency funding for the government program which takes care of migrant children in U.S. custody, calling on congressional Democrats to "step up" and sign-off on billions of funds requested by the Trump administration.

"I hope our friends on the other side, the Democrats, will step up and join us in providing the money needed to take care of unaccompanied kids," Blunt said on "Face the Nation" Sunday.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which takes care of unaccompanied migrant children after they are detained by Border Patrol, is asking for $2.88 billion in emergency funding to increase housing capacity in children shelters, which are overseen by the government but operated by private contractors.

Last week, citing a "tremendous strain" on the agency fueled by the unprecedented surge of migrants from Central America heading towards the U.S.-Mexico border, the department moved to shut down all educational, recreational and legal services offered to migrant children in U.S. custody, warning Congress that it is running out funds to take care of unaccompanied minors detained near the southern border.

The move is expected to end legal assistance, ESL classes, soccer games and other activities provided to migrant children. HHS is also preparing to open a new shelter in south Texas and is inspecting several military bases where they could potentially house more children. 

House Democrats have said they are ready to appropriate more funding to the department but only if "proper protections" are in place to ensure migrant children are "well taken care of." They also want the Trump administration to pledge not to take enforcement actions against family members living in the U.S. who try to sponsor these children. 

Blunt, who chairs the Senate subcommittee which appropriates funds to HHS, said the dwindling housing capacity in shelters overseen by the agency is fueling a "humanitarian crisis" that will continue to worsen.

"We're going to have about 88,000 come this year, 88,000 kids by themselves," he said. "And everybody, when they think about this, surely understands you can't let 12- and 13- and 14-year-old boys and girls, you can't say, 'OK, we don't have any place to go with you. And it's illegal to return you back to your home country.'"

Trump administration officials said last week that detentions of unaccompanied minors — which stands at nearly 55,000 for fiscal year 2019 — is on track to surpass the 67,339 apprehensions registered in 2014, when the Obama administration faced a surge of unaccompanied migrant children from Central America at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Under U.S. law, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees the Border Patrol agents who are usually the first to encounter migrants near the border, is required to transfer unaccompanied migrant children in its custody to HHS within 72 hours.   

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    Camilo Montoya-Galvez is the immigration reporter at CBS News. Based in Washington, he covers immigration policy and politics. Twitter: @camiloreports