U.S. Speaker Pelosi opens door to more funds for border migrant crisis

By Susan Cornwell
FILE PHOTO - U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks at her weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 2, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

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 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.

John Sanders, acting commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, said on Wednesday that the number of people apprehended at the border since Oct. 1 was nearly 520,000, the highest level in a decade. He said that in the past seven days, 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 statement and hoped it would speed things along in the lengthy negotiations over disaster relief.

"Hopefully it means that next week we'll be voting on something," said the Senate's number two Republican, John Thune.

Previously the sticking point of the disaster relief bill was Republican resistance to Democratic requests for additional money for Puerto Rico, which was devastated by a hurricane in 2017.

Those arguments have been largely resolved, Democrats say. Senate Republicans have proposed some $300 million for community block grant funds for the U.S. territory, a Democratic leadership aide said.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)