Congress Returns to DC with Immigration and Border Security on its Agenda
FAIR Take | April 2023
Congress returns on April 17 following a two-week recess, and on the agenda are several important hearings on immigration and border security. These hearings follow the release of President Biden’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 budget in March and come just as House Republicans are reportedly set to consider much-needed legislation to address the Biden border crisis.
On April 18 at 10:00am, the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, Subcommittee on National Security, the Border, and Foreign Affairs, will hold a hearing on the unaccompanied alien children (UAC) program. Administered by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), this program has been plagued by reports that the agency has “lost” tens of thousands of children who are supposed to be placed with a safe sponsor in the United States. The program has also faced backlash from whistleblower reports that children are knowingly trafficked and placed in the custody of criminals, and reports that some children end up in horrible working conditions. On President Biden’s watch, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has seen a massive spike in unaccompanied alien children encounters at the southern border – with an average of more than 13,000 each month – as previously detailed by FAIR.
Also on April 18 at 10:00am, the House Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing on Biden’s FY2024 budget request for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The budget, which FAIR previously analyzed, would slash ICE funding from about $9.1 billion in FY2023 to about $8.7 billion in FY2024. Critically, it cuts ICE detention bed space from 34,000 to 25,000 – a reduction of over 25%. As of April 9, ICE had only about 26,000 aliens in detention, which means ICE is already failing to use the full bed space capacity allocated by Congress. Acting ICE Director Tae Johnson, slated to be the sole witness at the hearing, may face questions regarding the agency’s unwillingness to detain criminal aliens and explain actions the agency has taken, or failed to take, to address the unprecedented deluge of over 6.3 million illegal aliens that have crossed our border under Biden.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) will hold a hearing on April 18 at 10:00am on the full Department of Homeland Security (DHS) budget request for FY2024, with Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas as the sole witness. His department is one of the few for which Biden requested a budget cut instead of an increase for FY2024. Mayorkas, who is under threat of impeachment, will have to answer questions related to Border Patrol vacancies, proposed cuts to border security resources and detention capacity, and a taxpayer bailout of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency in charge of immigration benefits such as green cards and work permits.
Following the morning hearings April 18, the House Appropriations Committee will hear from Deanne Criswell, Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), at 2:00pm. Ms. Criswell will offer a justification for FEMA’s FY24 budget request, which seeks a modest 1% increase in funding from about $29.9 billion to about $30.2 billion. FEMA, which is part of DHS, has overseen the dispensation of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to house, feed, and transport illegal aliens through a program originally meant for homeless Americans. The FY2024 budget calls for a $4.7 billion “contingency fund” to be administered by FEMA, in conjunction with ICE and CBP, for “border management requirements.”
On April 19 at 10:00am, Mayorkas will appear again, this time before the House Homeland Security Committee as it takes its turn examining the DHS FY24 budget request. This will mark Mayorkas’ fifth appearance on Capitol Hill in three weeks, as he previously testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on DHS oversight on March 28, made two separate appearances before the House and Senate Appropriations Committees on March 29 to testify on the budget, and will have made the aforementioned appearance before Senate HSGAC. At the March 29 House Appropriations hearing, Mayorkas refused to say there was a crisis at our border and admitted the government is “paying for the border wall to be stored instead of built.” House Homeland Security Committee Members will no doubt continue trying to get Mayorkas to admit the obvious: that there is indeed a crisis at the border.
Finally, on April 19 at 2:00pm, acting Commissioner of CBP Troy Miller will appear before the House Appropriations Committee to testify on CBP’s FY2024 budget request, which calls for cuts of over 6%, from about $20.9 billion to about $19.5 billion. CBP is proposed its own cuts despite the fact that it is the largest DHS component in terms of personnel and has primary responsibility for border security. Particularly troubling is a proposed 10% cut to Border Patrol funding, from about $6.3 billion to about $5.6 billion. The non-pay portion of the CBP budget, which includes funding for vital border-security technology and infrastructure, is slated to be cut more than 26%, from $8.7 billion to just $6.4 billion. While the budget invests in a 5.2% pay raise for federal employees, it aims to “bolster inclusive diversity strategies, especially in under-represented areas, to optimize operational effectiveness.”
FAIR will be monitoring these hearings closely to see how these Biden Administration officials explain cutting vital funds in the face of an unprecedented border crisis. The administration is unabashedly taking resources from enforcement and reallocating them to facilitate mass catch-and-release. The hardworking men and women of DHS deserve better, and so do American taxpayers. These hearings will hopefully help prepare Congress to draft a better spending plan with border security as a centerpiece.
For real-time updates on these hearings and more, follow FAIR on Twitter, @FAIRImmigration.