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Biden budget reflects shift in U.S. immigration policy and border enforcement

Asylum seekers from Colombia walk through an opening in the border wall in Yuma, Ariz., to turn themselves in to U.S. Border Patrol agents this month. (Apu Gomes/Getty Images)

President Biden’s immigration policy changes took shape Friday in a budget request that would eliminate border-wall funding, boost spending on care for unaccompanied migrant children to $3.3 billion and overhaul the way asylum seekers are handled at the Mexican border by dramatically increasing staffing to process their claims.

The budget would also increase internal oversight of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, set up a $30 million fund to assist migrant families separated during the Trump administration and more than double the resources available for a major increase in refugee admissions.

Lawmakers from both parties have expressed concern that Biden’s $52 billion request for the Department of Homeland Security leaves overall funding flat, despite a migration influx this spring that has sent border crossings to their highest levels in 20 years.

The administration also faced criticism from immigrant advocates Friday who expressed disappointment that Biden’s budget continues to fund tens of thousands of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds, while maintaining a controversial program that deputizes state and local police to detain immigrants for deportation.

In a statement, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the president’s budget “will invest in our broad mission set, including preventing terrorism; keeping our borders secure; repairing our broken immigration system; improving cybersecurity; safeguarding critical infrastructure; and strengthening national preparedness and resilience.”

“The Budget will provide DHS with the resources we need to keep our country safe, strong, and prosperous,” Mayorkas said.

Biden administration leaves Homeland Security budget flat despite border surge

Under Biden, immigration arrests and deportations have dropped to their lowest levels on record. But advocates for immigrants, who have praised Biden’s other moves on immigration, said they were concerned about the budget for ICE.

“President Biden’s proposed DHS budget today includes positive measures to increase accountability and oversight but fails to make a sharp enough break from the Trump administration’s wasteful and harmful spending on the detention and deportation machine,” said Naureen Shah, lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union.

On the campaign trail, Biden said he would create a “fair and humane immigration system,” and he has revoked his predecessor’s controversial measures, such as the travel ban from countries with Muslim majorities, and limited immigration arrests to recent border-crossers and people who pose a threat to national security and public safety.

But Mayorkas has said he is considering “significant changes” to the enforcement guidelines for ICE agents, and the proposed budget provides for robust enforcement: The budget projects that ICE would deport 167,420 immigrants in fiscal 2022, the same estimate as the prior year’s proposal, and would fund 32,500 detention beds, down from 34,000 the prior year.

A Biden administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to detail ongoing deliberations, said the president’s budget would reduce the total number of ICE beds and shift some of their use from detention to processing individuals for release into the community on “alternatives to detention,” such as case-management programs, so they can await a hearing in immigration court.

Mayorkas said at a budget hearing this week that he was “concerned about the overuse of detention” and was looking to expand alternatives.

The Biden administration also would add 100 new immigration judges, provide funding to reduce the backlog of 1.2 million cases in the immigration courts, and increase access to legal aid for children and families.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s proposed budget also would increase programs that deputize state and local law enforcement to assist ICE in enforcing immigration laws.

Biden had promised to “end the Trump administration’s historic use of 287(g) agreements,” named after the section of federal immigration law that authorizes them. Biden said on his campaign website that the programs “undermine trust and cooperation between local law enforcement and the communities they are charged to protect.” He promised to terminate all agreements the Trump administration signed and “aggressively limit” the use of these types of programs.

But ICE’s budget proposal said it expected the 287(g) program to “continue to increase in future years.”

“It’s a betrayal of the promises made on the campaign trail,” said Heidi Altman, director of policy for the National Immigrant Justice Center, an advocacy organization. “It’s a real lack of political courage.”

DHS signaled later Friday that part of the 287(g) language in the proposed budget is inaccurate and would change.

“This language does not reflect Administration policy and we are working to correct it,” DHS spokeswoman Marsha Espinosa said in a statement. “ICE still maintains authority over 287g, and we continue to exercise strict oversight and evaluate each of these agreements.”

Biden administration reins in street-level enforcement by ICE as officials try to refocus agency mission

The biggest change in Biden’s DHS budget is the elimination of $1.5 billion in border-wall funding. Biden has pledged not to add “another foot” to the former president’s signature project, and his administration’s decision to suspend construction activity has left a significant portion of last year’s appropriation unused.

Biden’s CBP budget would invest $660 million in new facilities for CBP’s Office of Field Operation, part of a plan that the administration says will modernize U.S. ports of entry and improve processing for legal trade and travel. Another new program would spend $2.1 million “to fund on-site clinicians to support employee resiliency and suicide prevention” at CBP.

Biden’s proposed budget would fortify U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that processes immigrants’ applications for citizenship, green cards and other legal benefits. His budget request would add more than 1,300 positions and $345 million to reduce backlogs, and process up to 125,000 refugee admissions next year.

The 2022 request also boosts DHS’s cybersecurity defense funding to $2.1 billion, a 5 percent increase, and provides $131 million to counter domestic terrorism and violent extremism, which the administration has identified as the most urgent lethal threat to the American public.