Obama asks Hill for $600 million border security amendment

The White House on Tuesday sent Congress a detailed breakdown of how it wants to spend $600 million in emergency funds for border security, which would be partially offset by eliminating $100 million from the problem-plagued virtual fencing program.

The money would go to the Homeland Security Department and Justice Department, including $297 million to hire 1,000 new Border Patrol agents and $37 million to buy and operate two new unmanned drones along the Southwest border.

Other funds would support new investigative and SWAT teams along the border, as well as prosecutors and prisons.

"This request responds to urgent and essential needs," President Obama wrote in a letter to House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "Therefore, I request these proposals be considered as emergency requirements."

The request appears to mark a change in how Obama views problems along the Southwest border. His fiscal 2011 budget request for the Homeland Security Department, for example, proposed to eliminate 181 Border Patrol positions.

Obama announced his intent to seek the funding last month after it became clear that House lawmakers planned to include border security money in the supplemental spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill may be brought to the floor this week.

Now the question is whether lawmakers will allocate the funding the way the administration wants.

House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman David Price, D-N.C., "appreciates the White House's input," according to his spokesman.

"He may have some differences with some of the specifics of the request, but he looks forward to working with the president to most effectively enhance border security," the spokesman added.

House Homeland Security Border Subcommittee Chairman Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said "the president's framework matches our vision in Congress to provide critical additions along the southern border in the face of escalated violence in Mexico."

"Ultimately, Congress will decide how to appropriate such funds based on the president's request. I will continue to stand by this and other emergency funding for our southern border," he added.

Overall, the White House is seeking $399 million for the Homeland Security Department and $201 million for the Justice Department.

The request includes $52.5 million to hire 160 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators; $29.7 million for the U.S. Marshals Service; $20 million for the federal prison system; $9.2 million for U.S. attorney salaries and expenses; and $6.5 million to hire 30 new Customs and Border Protection officers.

Notably, the White House is seeking $25.3 million to establish five new FBI investigation teams, including "wiretapping and fingerprint capture equipment," according to the request.

An additional $21 million is being sought for the "immediate and temporary deployment of additional federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors to the Southwest border region to help address violence and criminal activity."

Most of the proposed spending would not be offset and therefore would increase the top-line funding within the president's fiscal 2010 budget. But the administration proposes to eliminate $100 million from the SBInet virtual fence program to help cover some of the costs.

The White House noted that funding for the SBInet program has been frozen pending a review of its effectiveness.

Senate Democrats have not yet said whether they support adding border security funds to the supplemental spending bill. Indeed, Democrats beat back Republican efforts to add more than $3 billion in border security funding when the supplemental was on the floor.

But Senate Democratic leaders have indicated they could support adding the $600 million sought by the White House.

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