Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, expressed concern on April 18 that President Joe Biden’s proposed budget “falls short” of what’s needed to combat illegal immigration along the southern border.
Cuellar made comments expressing reservations about the budget during an April 18 hearing of the Appropriations Committee, where members heard from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Deputy Director Tae Johnson. In his capacity, Johnson is performing the duties of ICE director.
“Since I represent a lot of border area, [it’s] important to me that people aren’t crossing our land,” Cuellar said at one point during his questioning.
Among other provisions, Biden’s proposed budget would establish a two-year “Border Contingency Fund” to help combat illegal immigration at the border. Until now, the administration has downplayed the severity of the situation at the border, refraining from characterizing it as a “crisis.”
The contingency fund would grant around $1 billion in extra funding to ICE—but only after a certain number of encounters with illegal aliens has been met.
Cuellar said he was “concerned” with the administration’s proposal for the Border Contingency Fund, which he said “rests on the premise that the government can literally contract and execute over $1 dollars to provide resources they need after—after—a predefined level of encounters have been realized at the border.”
The result of this, Cuellar said, “is, under this new structure, the funding would not be available until well in the execution of the fiscal year.”
If the policies are enacted, Cuellar noted, it would reduce ICE detention space by 9,000 beds at a time that the United States is experiencing an unprecedented surge in illegal immigration.
Currently, ICE has capacity for 34,000 beds per day—a figure that Chairman Dave Joyce (R-Ohio) said “is already insufficient.” Under Biden’s proposed budget, that number could drop to 25,000.
“I want to thank the men and women of ICE, I wanna make sure we provide them the resources [for] the work that they do,” Cuellar said.
On the other hand, Cuellar said it was important for the United States to “find that balance between law enforcement at the border but at the same time, the rights of the asylum seekers.”
Cuellar cited reports of asylum claimants being deported despite having a pending case in U.S. immigration courts.
“If they’re supported to be here, they should be here. If they’re supposed to be removed, they should be removed,” Cuellar said. “That’s why it’s important that we find that balance.”
Backlogs Go Until 2033
During much of the hearing, Cuellar and Joyce focused on the backlogs facing both ICE processing and the immigration courts.
“I’m concerned about a few things, big picture,” Cuellar said.
In New York City and San Antonio, it is projected to take until 2033 for asylum claimants to even appear before ICE. After that, it can take another two to three years before they get a day in court.
“It’s a little concerning that some of them have to wait until 2033 just to appear before you, then they get another 2-3 years before they even go to an immigration judge,” Cuellar said.
To address this, Johnson proposed making “virtual” arrests by delivering Notices to Appear in court via electronic communications. He also told the panel that ICE had plans to expedite their way through the backlog in the most clogged cities.
Earlier, a top CBP chief acknowledged that DHS does not have operational control of the border, undercutting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’s claims to the contrary.