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DHS chief: 'Border security is not free'

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson on Tuesday argued new investments to protect the U.S. border cannot be made if Congress fails to pass a 2015 spending bill for his department.

“Border security is not free,” he said in a statement. “Time is running out. I urge Congress to act responsibly and pass a clean appropriations bill for this Department.”

Congress has less than 10 days in session, being in recess next week, to pass an appropriations bill by Feb. 27 that funds the agency. Republicans and Democrats, however, are at an impasse because the House-passed spending bill would reverse President Obama’s immigration actions from 2011, 2012 and 2014. If lawmakers can’t reach an agreement, the department could shut down. 

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Some members of Congress have suggested they might have to pass another short-term funding measure, known as a continuing resolution (CR), to avert a shutdown and buy Republicans more time to figure out their strategy. 

Johnson warned that even under a CR, the agency can’t expand new programs.  

“But, as long as this Department is on a CR, and not a full-year appropriations bill, our ability to strengthen border security, to include maintaining the resources we put in place to respond to the surge in illegal migration into south Texas last summer, is constrained,” he said Tuesday.

Without a spending bill that funds Homeland Security through September, Johnson said new investments cannot be made for border security technology, to improve analyses of geospatial intelligence and for inspection technology at U.S. ports. The agency, he added, can’t aggressively pursue investigations into organizations suspected of human trafficking.

Last weekend, Johnson said he would have to furlough 30,000 workers if his department shuts down. 

The White House has made clear President Obama would not sign the current proposal Republicans are floating. It wouldn’t make it to his desk, anyway, because Senate Democrats have filibustered it in the upper chamber.