Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Obama slows drive for legal power to deport migrant kids

Administration sources say policy changes will not accompany Obama's $2 billion spending request to Congress

The White House is planning to back off its request for legal authority to swiftly deport thousands of children who have streamed through the U.S. in recent weeks, congressional sources told the Associated Press, a change it hopes will ease passage of a $2 billion emergency spending request to cope with the influx.

Some of the child migrants make the dangerous trip alone, but others are accompanied by parents, usually their mothers.  

When Obama formally asks Congress for more than $2 billion in emergency spending Tuesday to deal with the border crisis, the request will not be accompanied by the policy changes that the White House had indicated it planned to seek, according to two congressional aides.

The aides spoke Monday on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the matter by name ahead of the announcement.

Meanwhile on Monday, the administration said it doubts the children qualify for humanitarian exemptions that would allow them to stay.

But the change, not yet formally announced, comes after strong criticism from immigration rights advocates on behalf of the children, most from Central America who are seeking to escape poverty and drug violence in their home countries. U.S. authorities have picked up and detained the children as they enter the United States from Mexico.

Decoupling the spending request from the contentious policy changes, which faced pushback from members of Obama's own party, may give the emergency money request a better chance in Congress.

The issue has ignited passions on both sides of the immigration debate. Busloads of the migrant youth on their way to federal detention centers across the Southwest have been met with vocal anti-immigrant protests, in at least one case preventing the vehicles from passing through.

A George W. Bush-era law, meant to address human trafficking, prevents the government from returning the Central American children to their home countries without taking them into custody and holding a deportation hearing. Minors from Mexico and Canada can be sent home more easily.

The administration said Monday that it wants more flexibility to send home the children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. 

The children now face an uncertain future. Despite a potential slow-down in their deportation process, the White House has made clear their prospects for staying in the U.S. are not good.

"It's unlikely that most of these kids will qualify for humanitarian relief," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday. 

"It means they will not have a legal basis for remaining in this country and will be returned."

Still, it's unclear how quickly that process will unfold. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson acknowledged Sunday that deportation proceedings might be long delayed, and he said that coping with floods of unaccompanied minors crossing the border is a legal and humanitarian dilemma for the United States.

"Our border is not open to illegal migration, and we are taking a number of steps to address it, including turning people around faster," Johnson told NBC's "Meet the Press."

At the same time, he said, the administration is "looking at ways to create additional options for dealing with the children in particular, consistent with our laws and our values."

The number of migrants has overwhelmed federal agencies. When 140 would-be immigrants — mostly mothers with children  — were transferred to southern California to ease an overcrowded Texas facility, angry residents of Murrieta, California, greeted the bus as it pulled into town, complaining that they were being saddled with more than their share of migrants.

Johnson said the U.S. government is trying to send the message that all people who enter the country illegally will face deportation proceedings eventually.

In Central America, he said, "the criminal smuggling organizations are putting out a lot of disinformation about supposed free passes into this country" that will expire soon. "We're cracking down on the smuggling organizations by surging law enforcement resources," Johnson said.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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