On October 20, the Biden administration renewed its request for emergency supplemental funding for border management from Congress. This new $14 billion request represents more than a $10 billion increase from the administration’s original August proposal and includes a sizeable investment in areas of the immigration system often forgotten by years of deterrence-heavy policy. Nevertheless, despite several positive requests, the president’s proposal still relies on increased detention and enforcement to address migration at the border.
Two months ago, the Biden administration proposed a much more modest supplemental border funding request as Congress began to debate the federal government’s discretionary budget for fiscal year 2024. While former Speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy and others tried to include restrictive and draconian border policies into the budget negotiations, that strategy was derailed as discord among House Republicans resulted in a 45-day bipartisan stopgap funding bill and the removal of Speaker McCarthy as leader of the chamber.
With just 28 days until the stopgap funding bill expires and after nearly three weeks without a new speaker, the future of Biden’s emergency funding request in Congress is uncertain. Nevertheless, this new proposal represents a bolder approach by the Biden administration, one that is likely to draw fire from both progressives and conservatives.
Proposal significantly increases investment in border enforcement and detention capacity
The new proposal includes nearly four times the requested amount for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) compared to the August request. Both include funding to address the smuggling of fentanyl at the border, which largely enters through legal ports of entry. However, the new proposal adds 1,000 additional CBP officers for this purpose while adding 1,300 new Border Patrol agents to manage the border, which would be the largest requested increase in the size of the Border Patrol since Biden took office.
Another notable increase is for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The proposal includes $2.5 billion in emergency funding compared to $759 million in August. The previous proposal vaguely indicated that the money would be used to “respond to migration surges” along the border. This time around, an accompanying DHS Fact Sheet suggests that this will partially fund additional detention beds due to the administration’s increased use of expedited removal and to “offer necessary surge capacity for any periods of elevated encounters.”
Currently, the Biden administration is detaining more than 36,000 individuals. This is an all-time high for his administration and the highest amount since the beginning of the pandemic. The requested funding would reportedly increase ICE detention capacity to 46,000, potentially the highest level Congress has ever funded. This represents a massive shift away from Biden’s prior commitments to reduce the use of ICE detention, including March’s FY 2024 budget request, which called for funding just 25,000 ICE detention beds. As a result, this request is likely to be the most controversial one included in the supplemental.
The DHS Fact Sheet also indicates that this money could resource ICE’s Alternatives to Detention programs, which include the Family Expedited Removal Management (FERM) program. Under FERM, already operating in 40 locations nationwide, certain families released at the southwest border are monitored by GPS and placed on a house curfew while they go through the credible fear interview process.
Despite ICE’s growing reliance on this program, little public information exists. The American Immigration Council and partners sent a letter to DHS in September seeking more transparency. Members of Congress have also called for more information on the program to be made public.
Proposal increases support for programs across the Western Hemisphere
To create safer alternative pathways for migrants across the Western Hemisphere, the Biden administration has set up Safe Mobility Offices (SMOs) in partnership with other governments to screen potential migrants for lawful pathways to enter the U.S. and provide credible information about the U.S. immigration system. These offices are currently located in Colombia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Ecuador. The SMOs have been met with overwhelming demand abroad and the supplemental funding request nearly doubles Biden’s original request to support this initiative.
However, this proposal renews a request to fund a controversial plan to support third countries conducting their own repatriation flights. Previously, Senator Bob Menendez blocked that program as the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; however, he stepped down from that role after being indicted on bribery, which may allow that program to move forward.
Proposal includes emergency funds to speed up immigration processing
One of the most notable changes in this new request is the Biden administration’s investment in speeding up asylum and work permit processing as well as increasing the immigration courts’ capacity. The agencies overseeing these programs are historically underfunded compared to other immigration agencies.
In addition to the 375 immigration judge teams in the original request, the Biden administration calls for an additional 1,470 attorneys and support staff to help process cases. This amounts to a fortyfold increase from $36 million to $1.42 billion. Currently, the immigration courts have 2.6 million pending cases. In July, the Congressional Research Service determined that adding 300 additional immigration judges could start to reduce the backlog; however, that estimate was based on the 1.9 million cases pending at the time. Nevertheless, this represents a significant investment in the immigration court system.
Unlike the previous proposal, which provided $0 to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the new supplemental request seeks to add $755 million to hire 1,600 asylum officers and support staff to process asylum claims and 30 officers to process work authorization applications. The DHS Fact Sheet suggests that many of the new asylum officers will be used to screen migrants at the border. USCIS also needs a substantial investment to process pending affirmative asylum applications because, for the first time in the agency’s history, it has nearly one million applications awaiting adjudication.
The proposal also includes an increase in supplemental funding for the Shelter and Services Program (SSP) from $600 million to $1.4 billion. SSP provides funding to nonprofits and local and state governments to support newly arrived migrants. This increase comes at a time when calls from governors and mayors for assistance from the federal government have only intensified and the roll out of initial SSP funding earlier this year left many nonprofits frozen out of continued funding.
The future of the president’s proposal is uncertain
Despite the significant investment contemplated by the Biden administration in our immigration system, the future of this emergency funding request is uncertain, especially as provisions like increased ICE detention are likely to prove controversial even among the administration’s allies. While House Republicans continue to search for a new Speaker, Senate Republicans are signaling an interest in drastically changing asylum law in order to provide additional funds to the immigration system. President Biden has already voiced opposition to any such changes. Regardless, Biden’s new emergency funding request highlights the need for Congress to make bold investments into parts of our chronically underfunded immigration system.
FILED UNDER: Congress