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Biden administration leaves Homeland Security budget flat despite border surge

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Capitol Hill.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Capitol Hill. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told lawmakers the Biden administration will seek $52.2 billion in funding for the coming fiscal year, leaving the agency’s budget unchanged despite the strains of a migration surge along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mayorkas provided lawmakers with an overview of the department’s funding targets for fiscal 2022, which begins in October, and said a detailed request would be released Friday. He said it will include $1.2 billion for border infrastructure and $345 million in additional discretionary spending for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to address backlogs in asylum and naturalization processing, as well as the funding needed to admit as many as 125,000 refugees, as President Biden has directed.

The Biden administration will also boost funding for DHS programs designed to improve climate change preparedness, cybersecurity protection and countering violent extremism, said Mayorkas, who has identified domestic terrorists as the most urgent, lethal threat to the American public.

“The president’s proposed budget will invest in our broad mission set, including preventing terrorism, securing and managing our borders, repairing the broken immigration system, safeguarding cyber and critical infrastructure, and strengthening national preparedness and resilience,” said Mayorkas, who appeared before a House appropriations subcommittee in the morning and a Senate appropriations subcommittee in the afternoon.

Republican lawmakers noted that the Biden administration is seeking funding increases for other federal agencies while leaving DHS’s flat during a period when border arrests and detentions have soared.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), a member of the Senate subcommittee, called the administration’s proposed budget request “highly concerning.”

“Despite every other agency receiving substantial increases in funding, the Department of Homeland Security stands alone as the only department held virtually flat from last year,” Moore Capito said. “This is highly conspicuous thrift from an administration that has already enacted and proposed trillions in new spending.”

Mayorkas said the Biden administration would inform congressional appropriators of any need to reprogram or transfer funds to cope with the border influx, possibly next month. “I would anticipate that we will indeed seek a reprogramming,” he said. “But that’s something that we are assessing right now.”

That timeline potentially defers what are likely to be contentious negotiations. GOP members blame the Biden administration’s rollback of Trump-era border policies for incentivizing unlawful migration.

Biden administration reins in street-level enforcement by ICE

U.S. agents took more than 178,000 migrants into custody along the southern border in April, the highest monthly total in two decades. Record numbers of unaccompanied teens and children crossing without parents have strained U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is also facing the possible end of an emergency health order used since the start of the coronavirus pandemic to rapidly return most single adult migrants to Mexico.

Mayorkas did not give lawmakers a timetable to lift the pandemic order and return to standard immigration processing, but said he was planning to meet with senior officials at U.S. immigration agencies later Wednesday to discuss preparations.

GOP lawmakers noted that the administration’s $1.2 billion proposal for border security infrastructure does not include money to complete segments of President Donald Trump’s border wall. The funding sought by the Biden administration would be used for security technology, improvements at legal ports of entry and more humane treatment for migrants in federal custody.

Mayorkas told The Washington Post that the Biden administration is not planning cuts to staffing or detention capacity at ICE, which last month reported the lowest number of arrests and deportations on record.