Massive Spending Bill Includes $785 Million to Feed, House, and Transport Migrants

But just an extra $1.6 million to CBP for suicide prevention and wellness

By Andrew R. Arthur on December 30, 2022

President Biden took a break yesterday from his Caribbean vacation to sign a massive, $1.7 trillion spending bill, expressly flown to him in St. Croix for that purpose. Included in that bill is the transfer of $800 million from CBP to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), $785 million of which will go “to support sheltering and related activities provided by non-Federal entities, including facility improvements and construction, in support of relieving overcrowding in short-term holding facilities”. Oh, and an additional $1.6 million for CBP “suicide prevention and wellness activities”. Congress needs to investigate.

The Emergency Food and Shelter Program. In September, I described in detail the history and responsibilities of a FEMA program known as the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP), but briefly the ESFP started out as a Reagan-era program to provide for homeless Americans, most notably the elderly, handicapped, families with kids, Native Americans, and veterans.

And that’s more or less what the ESFP remained until a long-forgotten (and poorly understood at the time) border crisis in the late spring and early summer of 2019, when President Trump needed money to get alien minors out of CBP facilities, but congressional Democrats left him twisting in the wind for weeks before they gave it to him.

When the spending bill (the “Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Humanitarian Assistance and Security at the Southern Border Act”), was finally delivered to Trump’s desk in late June, it expanded the EFSP, providing $30 million for “assistance to aliens released from” DHS custody and then only “to jurisdictions or local recipient organizations serving communities that have experienced a significant influx of such aliens”.

Trump asked for ESFP to be axed in his FY 2020 and FY 2021 budget requests because it’s duplicative of other federal activities, but as Reagan himself once noted, “a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth.” Consequently, ESFP received $125 million in FY 2020 and $130 million in FY 2021.

Once Biden took office, he immediately pushed for and got a bill called the “American Rescue Plan” (ARP). ARP appropriated $400 million for what FEMA terms “regular EFSP” (the one Reagan approved), and an additional $110 million for “humanitarian relief to families and individuals encountered by” DHS. The temporary ESFP for migrants (called “ESFP-H”, for “humanitarian”) from the 2019 supplemental was now a line item.

In the FY 2022 appropriations bill (signed almost halfway through FY 2022), those proportions shifted, with $130 million in appropriations for regular EFSP, with an additional $150 million for what that bill termed “providing shelter and other services to families and individuals encountered by” DHS, EFSP-H.

The White House, in its FY 2023 FEMA budget request, asked for $130 million for regular EFSP and $154 million for the migrant version. The request explained: “Since 2019, services to migrants provided by NGOs and local jurisdictions have significantly increased and in many cases quadrupled.” Here’s why.

The Immediate and Downstream Effects of Massive Migrant Releases. As the border disaster that the Biden administration created has festered and grown, DHS has released somewhere around 1.6 to 1.7 million migrants (all of whom were supposed to be detained) into the United States. I’d like to give you a more specific figure, but not surprisingly, the administration has not been forthcoming with that data.

That has created a strain, first on border communities, and then on states and cities across the United States where those migrants have ended up. Let me explain how that works.

Border Patrol apprehends illegal entrants and processes them. Some of those migrants (a decreasing percentage) are expelled pursuant to CDC orders issued under Title 42 of the U.S. Code in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The rest are either removed, handed over to ICE for detention pending removal proceedings, or more likely, released.

For example, of more than 141,000 illegal migrants apprehended in November who were not expelled under Title 42, just over 16,500 were released on their own recognizance, nearly 89,000 were released on parole, fewer than 6,500 were subject to expedited removal, about 2,100 were allowed to voluntarily return, 2,015 had prior removal orders reinstated, and just over 20,000 were sent to ICE.

Thus, 105,000-plus migrants were released straight away, and you can expect that most of those who were detained by ICE didn’t stay detained for long. Add it up, and you have the population of a small city who arrived in the United States and needed someplace to go.

Migrants pay thousands of dollars to smugglers just to get to the border, and while many show up with a U.S. destination and the money to get there, a lot of them haven’t planned that well and are out on the street wherever DHS has released them.

Many of those migrants are dropped off at NGOs along the border, which shelter those migrants for a day or two and then work out travel arrangements. A lot of those NGO shelters are well-established, but never in history have this many migrants been released at the border, and so those NGOs are strapped. Other border towns have gotten so few migrants in the past that they don’t even have NGOs.

Also “travel arrangements” generally means a bus ticket north, and that money must come from somewhere. And then, once they get to those destinations, many of those migrants are reliant on state and federal assistance for food and shelter, but most states and cities don’t budget for migrant surges.

When you hear about cities in the interior (like Denver) declaring a “state of emergency” in response to an influx of migrants in their environs, you will usually read that the declaration “allows the city, businesses and residents to apply for funding from the federal and state governments”. That money comes primarily from FEMA.

$785 Million from CBP to EFSP-H. Which brings me back to the $800 million that Congress has transferred from CBP to FEMA. Of that amount, $785 million is to be spent through the EFSP “for the purposes of providing shelter and other services to families and individuals encountered by” DHS, that is, to the EFSP-H. I have no idea where the other $15 million is going.

Wait, you may be saying, I thought that Biden was “only” asking for $154 million for that program in FY 2023? Yes, and no.

While Congress was making the sausage that is the FY 2023 Omnibus, the White House sent a document captioned “FY 2023 Full Year Continuing Resolution Assumptions” to the Hill. Among the things Biden asked for was $820 million for EFSP-H. Somehow Congress managed to shave 2.5 percent off that ask.

Given that $820 million is more than five times as much money as $154 million, somebody in the administration must have realized that releasing hundreds of thousands of migrants into the United States came at a cost. I could have told them that, but then the Office of Presidential Personnel hasn’t come calling of late.

There are just fewer than 148,250,000 taxpayers in the United States, and each of them is being asked to pay roughly $5.40 a piece to fund the feeding, housing, and transportation of the migrants whom DHS is releasing into the United States in contravention of law. That’s one way of looking at it.

Another is that $800 million is being taken from CBP — the overwhelmed and understaffed agency that is expected to deal with the chaos and catastrophe that Biden’s feckless and nonsensical border policies have created.

An Extra $1.6 Million to CBP for “Suicide Prevention and Wellness”. It should come as no surprise that Biden’s border fiasco has taken a toll on CBP employees at the Southwest border. Morale is at all-time lows and the administration doesn’t seem to care much.

As of late November, 14 CBP employees committed suicide in 2022, the last three of whom were Border Patrol agents at the Southwest border who took their lives less than two weeks apart.

I’m not saying that the Biden-created disaster at the border either led to or precipitated those deaths. Having been a former congressional oversight staffer, however, I would like to know.

Congress apparently wants to know as well, because its omnibus includes an additional $1.6 million “for suicide prevention and wellness activities, to include employee child and backup care, for a total of” $24.6 million.

As a father, I know that childcare is not cheap, and so most of the $24.6 million is likely going to pay for daycare and nannies. That Congress realized, however, that CBP has a suicide problem on its hands is heartening.

That said, $1.6 million is 0.2 percent of $800 million, the amount that CBP is sending to FEMA, $785 million of which is going to care for migrants whom DHS has no authority to release.

Congress Needs to Investigate. Republicans will assume control of the House of Representatives when it reconvenes on January 3, and they will have a lot on their plate. For the last two years, Congress has sat aside and done nothing while the Southwest border descends into anarchy.

One item that they and the Democratically controlled Senate need to investigate is how $785 million in CBP funding that is being sent to FEMA for migrant support is being spent and, in particular, who’s getting the cash and what they are doing with it.

I’m sympathetic to the migrants, but they chose to come and bear most of the responsibility for their plight. It’d be both cheaper and more humane to house and care for them in ICE custody until any asylum claims they may have can be heard. That would also significantly cut the flow at the border and ameliorate the conditions under which Border Patrol agents are expected to work.