Shelby Statement on the President's Emergency Supplemental Request

WASHINGTON, DC, Thursday, July 10, 2014 – U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today offered the following remarks during a full committee hearing to review the President’s emergency supplemental request:

Thank you Madam Chair for your leadership on this issue.

I know you care deeply about addressing the crisis associated with unaccompanied minors arriving at our southwest border.  I share your concerns. 

Human smugglers threaten the lives of these children by sending them on dangerous treks across Central America and Mexico to cross our borders and present themselves to our Border Patrol.

This crisis of unaccompanied alien children illegally crossing our borders is one that President Obama helped create in June 2012 with his decision to defer deportation of aliens who arrived here as children. 

The result of his lax and confusing immigration enforcement policies has been predictable, and hardly humanitarian. 

In fiscal year 2011, before the President deferred immigration enforcement for individuals under age 31, HHS took custody of only 6,560 unaccompanied alien children. 

The number has skyrocketed since the President’s speech in June 2012.  This year, HHS projects having to handle more than ten times that number – over 70,000 kids. 

The Administration’s current rhetoric now describes the thousands of children flooding across our borders as a “humanitarian crisis” that must be addressed.

Yet, the President’s budget requests and policies have neglected to do so.

We are here to examine the President’s “emergency” supplemental request because despite his negligence in failing to budget in advance for this entirely foreseeable set of circumstances, there will certainly be a cost. 

Estimates suggest that the expense for HHS is more than $15,000 for every minor in U.S. custody.  For HHS, alone, the President requests an additional $1.8 billion, with no firm policy to stem the influx and no way to pay for it.

While the President is seeking billions for the admission, detention and care of illegal children and adults, only $45.4 million is requested for the Department of Justice’s adjudication and immigration proceedings.  This both surprises and concerns me.

This small sum is a drop in the bucket given the thousands of unaccompanied alien children who will remain wards of the state until their cases are heard.

Even before the recent influx of illegal immigrants, the Department could only adjudicate half the cases on their caseload.

In addition, the President’s request for supplemental funding focuses on efforts to adjudicate illegal immigrants that are detained, or in federal custody. 

The majority of unaccompanied alien children, however, are not detained. 

Under current law, these children are placed in “the least restrictive setting possible”, usually with a family member or a sponsor.  It is an important distinction.

Unless there is a formal change in DoJ policy, unaccompanied children are not detained and consequently may not be prioritized for adjudication and possible return to their home countries.

Until there is a focus on removal proceedings for both detained and non-detained cases alike, DHS and HHS will continue to divert billions of dollars to merely treating the symptoms of this crisis, while doing nothing to address its cause.

Finally, I remain concerned that the Majority cancelled our Full Committee markup of the Labor-HHS bill for FY15.

This decision foreclosed any meaningful debate and ultimately robbed us of our ability to balance all the needs of HHS, including in this crisis.

While I fear that this Administration knowingly stumbled into this situation, I am confident that we can find a way to care for these children, send them home, and do so in a fiscally responsible way.

Thank you.