U.S. immigration, border agencies face funding shortfall after public health order ends
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Homeland Security expects to be short on cash for border and immigration operations later this year after the federal government ends a Trump-era policy that prevents migrants from claiming asylum during a health crisis.
A halt to the program, known as Title 42, has divided Democrats, some of whom have called for the Biden administration to have a plan in place before it lifts the public health order that has allowed border patrol officers to expel more than 1 million people.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that DHS, which includes Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as Customs and Border Protection, has several options to make up the budget gap.
That includes reallocating existing funds, requesting additional support from other federal agencies, if necessary, and asking Congress to provide more money — which likely would be difficult given intense partisan disagreements over spending as well as immigration policy.
“What DHS said last month is that they expect the current funding levels will not be sufficient to meet operational needs, but they have a number of options available,” Psaki said.
The Trump administration began using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s authority in March 2020 to turn away migrants.
President Joe Biden continued Title 42 during his first year in office, but the CDC announced earlier this month it will expire in late May.
The decision led to a wave of condemnation from Republicans and objections from many centrist Democrats, including those in tough races this fall, who said they were skeptical of an abrupt end to the policy without a comprehensive plan in place.
Several Senate Democrats are backing legislation that would bar Title 42 from being lifted until at least 60 days after an end to the declaration of a public health emergency — including Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, Jon Tester of Montana and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire.
Politico reported Monday that Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters, the chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said he shares the concerns of others in the party.
At the time of the announcement, the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that its funding levels for the current fiscal year “would not be sufficient to fund the potential resource requirements associated with the current increase in migrant flows.”
“DHS will fund operational requirements by prudently executing its appropriations; reprioritizing and reallocating existing funding through reprogrammings and transfers; requesting support from other federal agencies; and finally, by engaging with Congress on any potential need for supplemental appropriations, as necessary,” the department said.
Tensions over ending Title 42 have caused a bit of a domino effect in Washington, where efforts to pass a $10 billion bipartisan COVID-19 aid bill stalled over the issue.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said earlier this month that his party will not agree to begin floor debate on the legislation unless Democrats agree to take up amendments that would address Title 42.
So far, Senate Democratic leaders have mostly rejected that offer, in part because several of their members are likely to vote for an amendment.
Some in the Biden administration have considered delaying an end to Title 42 past the current May 23 termination date, according to multiple news reports.
National Immigrant Justice Center Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy released a statement Wednesday urging Biden to close down Title 42 as planned.
“Our country has an obligation to uphold values of human rights and to treat people humanely when they come to our borders seeking refuge,” McCarthy said.
“Title 42 has upended decades of asylum law. Expelling nearly 2 million people has created a costly humanitarian disaster. It is past time to end this policy and refocus our values and resources as a nation to protect the right to asylum.”