By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday opened the door to President Donald Trump's proposal for emergency funds to address a migrant surge at the southern U.S. border, saying some money to alleviate the humanitarian crisis could be included in pending disaster relief legislation.
Pelosi was not talking about money for the border wall Trump wants, which Democrats oppose. Republican Trump on May 1 requested $4.5 billion for programs that house, feed, transport and oversee record numbers of Central American families seeking asylum and straining capacity at migrant shelters in border cities.
Democrats initially questioned whether the administration was seeking more funding to expand the detention of migrants entering the United States illegally. But now they are willing to spend several billion dollars on humanitarian needs at the border, according to a House Democratic aide.
Pelosi told reporters on Thursday she hoped some assistance for the "humanitarian crisis" at the border could be inserted in a bill congressional leaders are working on to help Americans rebound from a string of natural disasters, from wildfires to floods and hurricanes.
"What is happening at the border is tragic and we hope to address some of that in the supplemental, the disaster supplemental, to provide some of the resources that are needed there," Pelosi said. She provided no details.
Democrats made a "thoughtful offer" to Republicans on Thursday evening of "several billion" dollars for humanitarian needs at the border, the House Democratic aide said. He did not reveal the specific amount.
"Some parts of the administration's request - like increasing ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detention beds - are nonstarters, which is why we have excluded them from our offer," said the aide. He said Democrats also sought oversight provisions to "protect the dignity and rights of migrants."
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency said this week that the number of people apprehended at the border since Oct. 1 was nearly 520,000, the highest level in a decade. In the past week, there was an average of 4,500 arrests a day.
Trump earlier this year declared the immigration influx a national emergency, which allowed him to circumvent Congress to redirect more than $6 billion in funding to start building the border wall that he campaigned on. His move has been challenged in courts.
Republicans welcomed Pelosi's comments and said they hoped this would speed things along in the lengthy negotiations over disaster aid. Previously the sticking point was Republican resistance to Democratic requests for additional money for Puerto Rico, devastated by a hurricane in 2017. Those arguments have been largely resolved, Democrats said.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)