Administration's Border Funding Request Becomes Clear

Money needed "to address the grim situation" at the border

By Andrew R. Arthur on May 3, 2019

In an earlier post, I reported that the White House had asked for additional border funding. The parameters of that request are clear, and underscore what the Washington Post described as "the grim situation" at the border. The prospects for that crucial funding actually being approved, however, are in doubt, due to the opposition of at least one key lawmaker.

The Post reported that the $4.5 billion supplemental funding request included "$3.3 billion for humanitarian assistance and $1.1 billion for border operations", as well as "$377 million for the Pentagon and National Guard for their operations along the border."

According to the White House, of the $3.3 billion for humanitarian assistance:

More than $2.8 billion will go to increase Health and Human Services (HHS) shelter capacity for Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) to approximately 23,600 beds.

Department of Homeland Security will receive $273 million to stand up, operate, and secure processing centers at the southern border, increasing its capacity by 3,500 beds.

In explaining the need for additional funding for HHS, the White House explains that the department will exhaust all of its UAC resources by June. Why? Because HHS has seen a 50 percent increase in UAC referrals this year compared to last year.

In an April 1, 2019, Backgrounder on UACs, I explained the role that HHS plays in the border apprehension and detention process:

In particular, by law, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is required to turn all of those UACs from non-contiguous countries (that is every country other than Canada and Mexico) over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in [HHS] within 48 hours of the point at which they were identified as UACs, for prompt placement in the least restrictive setting "that is in the best interest of the child". In FY 2018, the average UAC spent 60 days in an ORR shelter before being released.

Generally, most are released to a parent or other family member in this country, the majority of whom do not have lawful status in the United States.

Therefore, if HHS runs out of funding to shelter UACs, the executive branch will be on the horns of a dilemma: It can violate the law by spending unappropriated funds to shelter those UACs; it can violate the law by detaining those UACs in non-HHS shelters; or, it can turn those UACs out on the streets or alternatively hand them over to any sponsor who comes forward.

The first two actions, by definition, are illegal. Perhaps House Democrats would like the president to violate the law so they can blame him for doing so. These are complicated issues, so the press would likely lap it up without really understanding what those issues are.

The third would encourage the trafficking of children to the United States for God knows what purpose. And when that I write "God knows what purpose", the purpose is likely to be as bad as you could imagine, if not worse. Sex trafficking, peonage, other forced labor, ransom, and kidnapping, to start. Smuggling is by definition a criminal activity, and the criminals who engage in it (and the cartels to whom they pay money) are among the worst human beings on the face of the earth. If the most twisted and debased mind can think it, they have at least considered it, if are not already doing it. If this funding is not approved, any member who blocks it should be publicly shamed for the carnage and degradation that follows.

In addition, the White House is asking for $278 million for DHS "to stand up, operate, and secure processing centers at the southern border, increasing its capacity by 3,500 beds." Such processing centers were recommended in the April 16, 2019, "Final Emergency Interim Report" from the Homeland Security Advisory Council's bipartisan CBP Families and Children Care Panel.

That report notes that there has been a 600 percent increase in the number of family units (FMUs) in the past year, and that 73 percent of the children that the parents and guardians those FMUs are bringing with them to the United States are under the age of 13. It makes clear that "properly caring for this population [has] overwhelmed the entire government and brought our border security and immigration management systems to the point of collapse."

The panel recommended that DHS should set up three to four "temporary, scalable processing centers [RPCs] along the" southwest border and that all family unit migrants be transported to the nearest RPC as soon as possible but no later than 24 hours after apprehension by [U.S. Border Patrol (USBP)]" and by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the ports of entry.

Those RPCs are necessary, the panel explains, because:

On any given day, CBP is at half strength or less "on the line" in places at the border, endangering themselves and the country. Turned on its head, CBP personnel are instead tending to the daily needs of thousands of illegal migrants who CBP has already processed but is left holding for days and sometimes weeks in confinement space that was built decades ago and designed to confine only a fraction of these illegal migrants for hours, not days or weeks, and certainly not intended to confine tender age children.

Because of the influx of FMUs along the Southwest border, the panel reports, CBP has been releasing FMUs with a Notice to Appear within a few days of apprehension by USBP, with only "preliminary processing", and without being subject to expedited removal or credible-fear assessments. As the panel disclosed, this is occurring because U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) only has detention facilities for approximately 2,500 FMUs, a factor of tens below the number of FMUs being apprehended monthly.

In addition, the panel asserts, these RPCs are necessary because CBP lacks the capacity to provide medical treatment to a large number of FMUs that it is apprehending. As a consequence, the panel contends, "the USBP will continue to be dependent on community emergency rooms and other medical facilities, as well as local emergency transport systems, which, in turn, significantly and negatively impacts the USBP mission and manpower" until those RPCs can be established.

In addition, the White House reports, $1.1 billion of its funding request "will go to border operations, including personnel expenses, additional detention beds, and operations combating human smuggling and trafficking." The panel's report amply details the need for additional personnel expenses, given the strain that the influx of migrants entering illegally along the border is having on the effectiveness of CBP operations, as set forth above. In addition, detention is also needed for the large number of single adult migrants who are apprehended entering along the border, some 135,605 in the first six months of this fiscal year alone, according to CBP statistics.

Despite the need for this additional funding, it does not appear that a key House Democrat, Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, is supportive. The Washington Post states that Lowey criticized the request "as an attempt to expand detention of immigrants by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency." It quotes her as stating:

The Trump administration appears to want much of this $4.5 billion emergency supplemental request to double down on cruel and ill-conceived policies, including bailing out ICE for overspending on detention beds and expanding family detention . ... Locking up people who pose no threat to the community for ever-longer periods of time is not a solution to the problems at the border.

It is not clear from this statement whether the chairwoman is unfamiliar with the panel's report, or disagrees with the panel's conclusions, or misunderstands the need for the funding requested. Regardless, she should heed the conclusion in that report that:

The dramatic increase in FMU apprehensions over the past year is directly linked to the U.S. government — executive, legislative and judicial branches — creating "pull factors" that incentivize migrants to bring a child with them to gain entry to and release into the U.S. [Emphasis added.]

If she were to do so, she would immediately move forward with the president's funding request.