WASHINGTON (AP) — A key Senate panel Thursday approved $675 million in aid to Central American countries to address economic and social conditions that have contributed to an influx of refugees into the U.S. who are fleeing violence in countries such as Guatemala and El Salvador.
The funding amounts to $125 million over current levels but is still far less than President Barack Obama's $1 billion request.
The money was included in a $49 billion foreign aid bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee by a bipartisan 27-3 vote.
The Central American aid is aimed at improving conditions in the poorest and most violent regions of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala that sparked a crisis of unaccompanied children last year. While the number of immigrants is down this year, the funding — a priority of top administration officials such as Vice President Joe Biden — is aimed at addressing the root causes of the exodus, which include poverty and drug gang violence.
Meanwhile, in the House, an Appropriations panel approved a $39 billion measure funding the Department of Homeland Security and seeking to block executive orders by Obama that have allowed millions of immigrants in the country illegally to remain. That measure drew bipartisan praise over funding levels for items like first-responder grants to states, acquisition of new ships for the Coast Guard, and management reforms at the department.
Both measures, however, remain trapped by a battle between Republicans controlling Congress and the White House and their Democratic allies over funding levels for domestic agencies that promises to stall final resolution on the 12 annual spending bills until late in the year.
Also Thursday, GOP leaders pulled an Interior Department funding measure pulled from the House floor over a blow-up involving Democratic moves to thwart the display and sales of the Confederate battle flag in national parks and historic graveyards in several southern states.