"So there is a request to the appropriators for just over $2 billion to support HHS (Health and Human Services) facilities in particular," a senior administration official told reporters on a White House conference call Monday.
The administration also is requesting another $160 million in "additional support" for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Border Patrol and immigration agencies.
Administration officials, speaking on background, admitted that "there is a lot of conversation" in Central America about the U.S. immigration debate and the Obama administration's DACA policy -- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals," which allows certain minors who were brought to this country as children to avoid deportation.
"But it is -- it should be abundantly clear that neither the bill which passed the Senate last year, nor DACA, apply to these kids," the briefer told reporters. "They both have cut-off dates. You had to be in the country before a particular date in order to qualify for any kind of relief. So there is no relief available. These kids are coming and ending up in removal proceedings. And so we're making sure that that point is reinforced."
At Monday's briefing, officials said violence in Central America is the main reason why tens of thousands of children are leaving home and coming to the United States, many of them all alone.
"Honduras...has the highest murder rate in the world. Guatemala and El Salvador, I think, are fourth and fifth. So these are the countries that these kids are coming from. We haven't seen large numbers from Nicaragua, for example, or Costa Rica or some of the other Central American countries. And if it was coming -- they were coming solely because of immigration policies, we would see then also large numbers of kids from other countries and principally Mexico as well."
The White House says it will continue to work with Central American countries "to disrupt and dismantle the smuggling networks."
"We're also ... conducting public messaging campaigns, some in Mexico, but certainly especially in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, to educate and inform individuals about the dangers of crossing, and ...making clear that migrants are not eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or as part of pending legislation."
The Department of Health and Human Services is supposed to take custody of the children within 72 hours of their apprehension by Border Patrol agents, but the administration admits it often takes longer than that.
"You are correct that at the moment we are not succeeding in getting every child transferred within 72 hours," a senior administration official told one reporter. The White House says in the meantime, it is "trying to provide hot meals for the children, shower facilities for the children, all kinds of other things to make their lives there as comfortable as possible, but with the ultimate goal of trying to move the children as quickly as possible to much better facilities -- facilities that are meant to house people for longer periods of time than the current CBP holding rooms."
Senior administration officials say all of the illegal aliens face "removal proceedings," but while they wait for a deportation order, many will be released to relatives in this country or put in foster care.
"So HHS is not sort of warehousing these children indefinitely. They are providing appropriate care while placement takes place," the official said.