On April 27, Reps. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) and John Katko (R-N.Y.) — respectively the ranking members of the House Budget and Homeland Security Committees — sent a letter to the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), detailing the reported costs of the migrant surge at the Southwest border, and asking for the true numbers. That letter contained some eye-popping figures, but what they don’t know could end up being even worse for your pocketbook — and your kids’ schools.
It goes without saying that March at the Southwest border was one for the books. Border Patrol apprehended more than 168,000 illegal migrants last month (the highest total since March 2001), including more unaccompanied alien children (UACs, 18,663) than in any single month in history.
Note that Border Patrol statistics on UACs only go back to October 2009, because before that, illegal entry by unaccompanied children was a rarity. Not anymore. And the problem is getting worse: More UACs were apprehended last month than in all of FY 2010 (18,411) and all of FY 2011 (15,949).
Caring for those children comes with a hefty price tag, as Smith and Katko note: Providing services to UACs costs $60 million per week, and $50,000 is being taken from CBP’s operational funds per month to pay for what are termed “migrant childcare items”.
CBP runs on a pretty lean budget now (and I should know, I had oversight of the agency for seven years). Spending $600,000 per annum to pay for clothing, food, and other necessities will mean tightening the belt on things like staffing the ports and patrolling the border — hardly indulgences.
The Donna Processing Center in Texas — basically a “temporary” overflow facility for migrants who otherwise would be in Border Patrol’s permanent processing centers and stations — alone cost the taxpayers $19.2 million to operate in March, according to Smith and Katko.
All of that is on top of “transportation costs”, now running into the millions. That includes the price of moving migrants between federal facilities, as well as paying travel expenses for “sponsors” (most of whom, as I have noted numerous times in the past, are themselves here illegally) to come and retrieve some unaccompanied children.
Smith and Katko don’t stop there, including: “Hundreds of millions to pay non-profits, including one which employs a previous Biden campaign official and transition team member, to assist at the border. These contracts include $86 million for hotel rooms to temporarily house the surge of migrants.” (NB: the real total is $86.9 million, but the extra $900,000 is like a rounding error given these costs).
Of course, the total price tag also includes millions of dollars in “alternatives to detention” (ATD, which includes GPS tracking, ankle monitors, and the sort). As I explained in December 2019, however, ATD hasn’t been shown to ensure that aliens ordered deported actually leave, so really, what’s the point?
The pair admit that the “the true cost — both current and future” of the current wave of migrants is “unclear”, but note “these adjusted costs were not budgeted or appropriated for, nor were they approved by Congress”.
That’s a problem, because Congress — not the administration — pays the bills. They really should know where that money is going.
Here’s the kicker, however, and what Smith and Katko deem “even more disconcerting”: Biden’s “budget outline for the upcoming fiscal year calls for a freeze in funding for DHS.”
Read that again. Does anyone believe that there will be fewer migrants entering illegally anytime soon?
Not DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. He said on March 16 that DHS is “on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years”. Twenty years ago was FY 2001, when Border Patrol apprehended more than 1.2 million migrants.
And not CBP. Reports indicate that they are expecting up to 26,000 unaccompanied children a month by September.
Given all that, why in the world would Biden want to freeze DHS’s budget? “Catch and release” won’t even include “catch” anymore, but only a few on the fringes have actually come out openly in favor of unlimited illegal immigration — yet. But it looks like it’s coming soon to a school and hospital near you, if the president has his way.
As I noted, Congress provides the funding, so it is only reasonable that Smith and Katko would want OMB to explain how much all of this is costing, and how much more it will cost.
They also want to know, again reasonably, how much reprogramming (D.C.-talk for robbing Peter to pay Paul) by DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS, which actually provides the shelters for unaccompanied children) to respond to the crisis at the Southwest border has impacted their operating accounts.
That is a particularly salient question as it relates to HHS because, well, there is a rather expensive pandemic going on, and HHS houses things like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration, each of which is key to the fight.
Of course, not all of the government’s funding at the border is being spent on the care of migrants and transporting UAC sponsors. Some of it is being wasted.
As Smith and Katko note, there are “settlement fees and lawsuits associated” with Biden’s termination and/or pause of border wall construction contracts”, with estimates as high as $3 billion.
They want to know how Biden is planning on paying those costs, and also want an accounting of “the current cost of materials that have gone to waste due to the pause in construction of the border wall system”.
Lest you think they have ignored the downstream costs, fear not, because Smith and Katko also want OMB to tell them the “estimated long-term costs for state and local governments that will have to provide social services to the influx of illegal immigrants into their communities”.
I have never worked at OMB, but I can guarantee you that: (1) under Biden, they have never even thought seriously about the costs at the state and local level of unlimited immigration; or (2) if they have, they don’t want Congress (that is, you) to know.
“Kids in cages” tugs at the heartstrings; increased school, fire, police, healthcare, and similar costs associated with unlimited immigration tug at the purse strings.
Smith and Katko want a response by May 3. I question whether they will get one then or ever, but if they do, it will be truly enlightening. If the president is polling poorly on his handling of the border now, imagine what voters will think when they get the tab.