Biden budget ends funding for border wall
President Biden’s discretionary funding request for fiscal 2022 nixed all funding for a border wall, including unused funds previously allocated to the project.
The request’s immigration and border enforcement sections reflect the administration’s focus on combating the root causes of migration, rather than discouraging immigration through enforcement, as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did under former President Trump.
Although Biden requested $1.2 billion for border security and infrastructure, he explicitly declined funding for the border wall, Trump’s signature immigration policy.
“The discretionary request includes no additional funding for border wall construction and proposes the cancellation of prior-year balances that are unobligated at the end of 2021,” reads the discretionary budget request summary for DHS.
Biden on his first day in office signed an order pausing construction of the border wall. In February, Biden formally rescinded the emergency order Trump had used to justify building the border wall and to divert money from other priorities to fund it.
The Supreme Court has since granted a White House request to cancel a February hearing that would have reviewed the legality of those diversions. The case, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Sierra Club and others, challenged the $2.5 billion in Department of Defense funds used for the wall.
Beyond wall funding, the budget request addresses several of Biden’s immigration proposals, starting with funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services.
In the request, Biden asks for $4.3 billion for ORR and sets a goal for 125,000 refugees to be resettled in the United States in 2022.
That amount would also be used to house and resettle unaccompanied minor migrants encountered at the border by U.S. authorities, a major focus of the Biden administration’s border management strategy.
It’s a substantial increase from the $2.5 billion former President Trump requested for ORR for the 2021 fiscal year, of which $2 billion was channeled to unaccompanied minors as Trump slashed the refugee program.
Still, Biden has yet to order an increase in refugee numbers, a situation that’s vexed immigration policy analysts.
“[The numbers] are a large increase over the 2020 Trump numbers, but Biden has not yet signed the order to start the processing of 62,500 refugees this year. What’s he waiting for? If the refugee agencies can’t get started, they’ll never get to 125,000 next year,” said Alex Nowrasteh, the director of immigration studies at the Cato Institute.
And despite numerous budget increases, the budget falls slightly short of targets Biden set out to ultimately deliver $4 billion over four years in aid to the Northern Triangle — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — to address the “root causes” of migration, coming in at $861 million for the first year.
Although Biden administration officials say investment in the region is the key to regularizing migratory flows over the long term, U.S. investment in the region has historically fallen short of its goals.
According to a report by the Root Causes Initiative, a network of faith-based and grassroots organizations in the Northern Triangle, less than 5 percent of U.S. aid over the past decade went to local organizations, instead funding large companies and governments.
And most funding to the region was not conditioned on fighting corruption and impunity, a chronic issue in all three Northern Triangle countries, according to the report.
The budget request calls the $861 million a “first step” toward the four-year $4 billion investment in the region.
“These resources would allow the United States to sustain effective regional partnerships and strengthen host government accountability to bolster service delivery and security by curtailing endemic corruption, preventing violence, reducing poverty, and expanding economic development opportunities,” reads the request.
Stateside, Biden’s funding request targets changes to immigration processing that have long been demanded by advocates.
It nods to workforce culture issues that have plagued DHS as Biden tries to roll out a more “humane” immigration system.
The budget calls for an additional $84 million to address culture issues at Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement “to ensure that DHS workforce complaints, including those related to white supremacy or ideological and non-ideological beliefs, are investigated expeditiously.”
Biden’s request calls for a $345 million injection for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), to address naturalization and asylum backlogs and modernize the agency.
USCIS, where naturalizations, visas and work permits are processed, operates mostly through fees paid by applicants, and has suffered ongoing budget shortfalls because of its funding structure.
Biden’s request represents more or less a threefold increase from the $118 million Trump requested in appropriated funds for USCIS in 2021.
Biden’s budget also calls for substantial investments in the immigration court system, meant to grapple with nearly 1.3 million cases — a figure that more than doubled over the course of the Trump administration.
The budget calls for adding 100 new immigration court judges to hear cases, along with a slightly more than 20 percent boost in funding.
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