Federal agencies face grilling over border crisis

President’s $3.7 billion request under Congressional review

WASHINGTON - Tempers flared Wednesday at a Senate hearing grappling with the still unfolding border crisis.

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One of the most outspoken was Arizona Sen. John McCain over the policies he encountered during a recent visit to a shelter for unaccompanied minors.

The former presidential candidate told Gil Kerlikowske, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, he had been prevented from speaking to children and staff, and was not allowed to have his cell phone.

“I view that as a violation of my responsibilities,” McCain said.

Yet when Kerlikowske said he was not familiar with what occurred, McCain said, “They were carrying out your instructions, sir. I want it fixed and I want it fixed immediately.”

Craig Fugate, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the shelters he oversees had made some progress in handling the new arrivals.

However, Fugate also said the shelters still get backed up.

“That progress often is disrupted when we have a sudden influx of kids coming faster than we can discharge them,” Fugate said.

Also at the hearing, Sen. Tom Coburn, of Oklahoma, questioned whether Health and Human Services was checking the legal status of the children’s families in the U.S.

“We do not specifically inquire as to the immigration status,” said Mark Greenberg, acting assistant HHS secretary for children and families.

Josh Earnest, White House spokesman, said President Obama is asking Congress to approve $3.7 billion to help deal with the crisis, including flexibility for Homeland Security “to remove efficiently and effectively immigrants that don’t have a legal basis for remaining here.”

However, Rep. Joaquin Castro, of San Antonio, said, “They’re fleeing very violent and dangerous situations where they could be killed. I think many of them would qualify for asylum.”

Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, of Laredo, a fiscal conservative Democrat, said, “We can’t just trust the President and say we’re going to give you exactly every penny you want.”

Cuellar said he still supports Obama, but it is the job of Congress to review funding requests.

Obama: Congress can act now to fix border crisis

President Obama says Congress does have the ability to act immediately to address the wave of unaccompanied minors coming over the border from Mexico into the U.S.

Obama spoke in Dallas after meeting Wednesday with Gov. Rick Perry and other officials about the unaccompanied minors entering the country by the thousands.

Obama says Perry raised four areas of concern and made suggestions. Obama says he doesn't have a philosophical objection to anything Perry suggested. He says if Congress passes his emergency funding request, the government will have to resources to take some of the steps Perry recommended.

Obama says the problem is fixable if lawmakers are interested in solving it. He says if the preference is for politics, it won't be solved.


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