Key House lawmakers introduced bipartisan legislation Thursday that would address repeated funding and resource shortfalls that occur during large upswings in the number of migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border.
The bill, introduced by Republican Rep. John Katko of New York and Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas is designed to provide immediate resources when there is a border influx and to protect Homeland Security funding from being reprogrammed. The bill aims to prevent law enforcement from being drawn “off the line” and avoid government bottlenecks that result in children being held in border custody for longer than they should.
The legislation would establish a $1 billion fund to help pay for humanitarian needs when they arise. To access the fund, the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies are required to develop a plan to respond to increases in the number of people crossing the US-Mexico border.
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It comes as the Biden administration continues to grapple with large numbers of people crossing the southern border and a need to move children swiftly out of crowded border facilities and raises questions about whether there is adequate funding to handle the current humanitarian needs at the border.
“Agents and officers on the frontlines are suffering through another crisis, in the midst of a global pandemic, Katko, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement. “We need greater confidence that the Federal government can manage these crises going forward.”
DHS would be required to develop a plan that would identify and deploy personnel to the border and enact policies to ensure communication between agencies. Once the plan is activated, the funds can be used to expand temporary housing capacity and transportation needs, pay for consumables, and provide overtime pay for workers.
Cuellar, Vice Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, said it is critical that DHS is “proactive and develops a strategy to adequately manage large migration flows at our southern border.”
In 2019, Congress passed an emergency supplemental funding bill that provided billions to help DHS pay for border and humanitarian expenses after officials warned agencies were running out of money. It also triggered outrage from progressives who objected to the legislation arguing that they could not ensure the Trump administration would not divert money intended for humanitarian aid toward immigration enforcement.
During previous peaks in border crossings, DHS struggled to receive timely supplemental funds from Congress that were desperately needed to address the humanitarian crisis, prompting some Border Patrol agents to reportedly buy clothes and toys for children in custody with their own money, according to Katko and Cuellar.
The legislation stems from a Homeland Security Advisory Council recommendation issued after the peak in border crossings in 2019. One of the council’s recommendations was to provide DHS with access to emergency funding in order to rapidly respond to immigration events of the magnitude of the family migration crisis of 2019 without having to wait for Congress to pass a supplemental appropriations bill.
“This will not be the last emergency immigration event that will impact our border and U.S. border communities,” the report read.