Proposed border budget has more money for agents, less for detaining migrants

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McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The House Appropriations Committee has voted to increase funding for two border agencies by nearly $3 billion while slashing their funding for migrant detention and monitoring in the Fiscal Year 2023.

The committee on Friday voted to increase the budgets for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to $85.6 billion, a 3% increase of $2.79 billion from Fiscal Year 2022, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, told Border Report on Monday.

The funding bill still must pass Congress, but if approved, that money could mean the hiring of 250 new CBP officers; 300 new Border Patrol agents; 300 border processing officers, plus 1,000 new technicians and support staff for these agencies, said Cuellar, who is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Committee.

This would mean “both the men and women in green and the men and women in blue got money for new agents but also the support staff to make sure that they do the work at the airport, at the bridges and also in between the ports also,” Cuellar said via zoom as he was traveling from South Texas back to Washington, D.C.

Border Patrol agents and DHS officials escort migrants on May 7, 2022, to a deportation flight in Harlingen, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

Cuellar said the Appropriations Committee last week voted on the budgets for six agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security; and this week is scheduled to vote on six other agency budgets for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Because homeland security is such a divisive topic, he said, DHS funding always gets put into the omnibus budget bill at year’s end and often undergoes changes between the House and Senate.

Cuellar is hoping that during that time, funds can be increased for the Alternatives to Detention Case Management Program for Fiscal Year 2023. Currently, only $30 million is slated for the program, which received $75 million in the current Fiscal 2022 year.

This program allows some asylum-seekers who are not considered a risk to American communities to be released in the United States with special government-issued cellular devices that require them to check in with ICE agents every few hours or to be tracked via GPS ankle monitors.

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The Appropriations Committee also voted to cut funding for migrant detentions in Fiscal Year 2023. Currently, they have approved funds to house 34,000; but if this budget bill passes, there would be funds for no more than 25,000 migrants to be detained, Cuellar said.

“It’s a decrease and I was the only Democrat to vote in favor of increasing it to put it back to about 34,000, the usual normal amount,” Cuellar said.

There were 23,290 migrants in U.S. detention facilities as of June 20, according to the latest data by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).

(Graphic by TRAC)

Cuellar said he fears that if there isn’t adequate detention facility space for migrants who are deemed a threat, and not enough electronic monitoring devices dolled out to asylum-seekers, then thousands who cross the Southwest border could be given humanitarian parole and the U.S. government would rely on their word to show up for immigration court hearings and to regularly check in with ICE officials.

“The ones we want to keep in detention are the ones who might be a risk to the communities. But the ones that we can put a monitor on that is something I’ve been adding money to provide a more humane way for the ones who are a low-risk to communities,” Cuellar said.

A DHS investigator guards a migrant court facility on Sept. 12, 2019, in Brownsville, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

Regarding the partisan divide over border security, Cuellar said lawmakers often make their positions known when the vote comes down to money.

“Some people feel we do too much; some people feel we don’t do enough,” he said. “So it’s been reduced but we’re hoping in conference we can get some of that back.”

Conference talks will likely begin in December as the government approaches the deadline for funding the federal workforce.

A five-week government shutdown occurred in early 2019 when lawmakers sparred over funding the border wall.

The Biden administration has halted border wall construction, and this budget bill instead has increased funds for virtual technology and includes:

  • $100 million for border technology and $15 million for “innovative technology.”
  • $165 million for the construction of a third Joint Processing Center on the southern border.
  • $35 million for body cameras for ICE agents.
  • $7 million for child exploitation investigations by ICE Homeland Security Investigations.
  • $6 million for Carrizo cane control for Border Patrol agents to patrol the banks of the Rio Grande.

“With this bill, we are securing our borders by funding smart and effective investments in technology and operations. We are respecting the dignity of children and families by making border processing quicker and more efficient and improving conditions in short-term holding facilities,” Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, said in a statement.

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