With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. See past weekly updates here. (Subsequent updates will go in-depth into Vice President Harris’s planned visit to the border this Friday, as reported by media on June 23).
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Biden administration extends military deployment into 2022
The Department of Defense has approved a request from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to keep military personnel deployed along the U.S.-Mexico border during the 2022 fiscal year (October 1, 2021-September 30, 2022). With this decision, the Biden administration continues a military mission that was part of Donald Trump’s approach to the border.
In April 2018, in response to media reports of a “migrant caravan” making its way through Mexico, Donald Trump ordered National Guard troops to the border. It was the fourth time since 2002 that a president had ordered the National Guard to support Customs and Border Protection (CBP). In October of that year, as a new caravan formed in the run-up to midterm legislative elections, Trump augmented that with a highly unusual deployment of active-duty army and marine personnel, a rarity on U.S. soil. At its height in November 2018, up to 2,579 National Guardsmen and 5,815 active-duty troops were involved.
4,000 troops, a mix of National Guardsmen and active-duty military, were approved to serve at the border during fiscal 2021. Right now, according to Stars and Stripes, 3,800 are there. (A June 24 Defense Department release cites “more than 2,600.”)
Their duties are mostly helping to maintain CBP equipment and watching over segments of the border and alerting Border Patrol if they see illicit crossings. Between April 2018 and May 2020, the Defense Department obligated at least $841 million to pay for this deployment, according to a February U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report covered in a past weekly update.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved the DHS request to extend the military mission on June 23, but reduced the troop strength to 3,000. As before, most personnel will be National Guard members from several states, under federal command.
“Invasion” narrative making a dent in U.S. public opinion
Right now, about 23 states contribute National Guard personnel to the Defense Department’s border mission. Troops usually rotate to the border on two-week tours of duty. States that recently announced new deployments for this federal mission through 2022 include Kentucky, North Dakota, South Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
Other states, though, are sending police and some troops for a different mission, called by the Republican governors of Arizona and Texas. Those governors are invoking the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, a 1996 agreement in which states may assist each other in emergencies, usually with the requesting state reimbursing the costs.
Greg Abbott (R-Texas) and Doug Ducey (R-Arizona) have asked states to contribute security personnel, with a preference for civilian law enforcement personnel who may be empowered to arrest people for crimes like trespassing (not specifically to enforce federal immigration law). Abbott sent Texas police and military forces to the border in March, calling it “Operation Lone Star.”
The list of states responding to Abbott and Ducey includes the following so far. All have Republican governors.
- Arkansas is sending 40 National Guard troops for about 90 days; they will mostly perform vehicle maintenance and repairs.
- Florida is sending over 50 law enforcement officers for 16-day deployments.
- Iowa has not confirmed a number, but may be sending 25-30 Iowa State Patrol troopers between July 8 and 23.
- Nebraska will send “more than two dozen” State Patrol officers for about 16 days.
- Ohio is sending 14 Ohio State Highway Patrol officers.
- South Dakota is sending up to 50 National Guard troops for one or two months.
- Wyoming is in negotiations about what assets to send. It had offered aerial coverage, but “it was determined that these particular assets may not precisely match the needs of the requested border mission.”
In an unusual move that raises strong civil-military relations concerns, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) is using an approximately $1 million donation from a Tennessee billionaire to cover the cost of her state’s National Guard response to Abbott and Ducey’s call. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) called this a “bad precedent.” (During the George W. Bush administration, Hutchinson headed the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and served as the first DHS assistant secretary for Border and Transportation Security.)
This state deployment has “been criticized as political theater,” Stars and Stripes notes, as Abbott and Ducey seek to portray the Biden administration as leaving them vulnerable to an “invasion” of migrants. “Carnage is being caused by the people coming across the border,” Abbott told a press conference. “Homes are being invaded. Neighborhoods are dangerous, and people are being threatened on a daily basis with guns.” Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick added, “This is a fight for our survival.”
Reality doesn’t match this rhetoric. An Austin American-Statesman fact check found that it is exceedingly rare for undocumented migrants to carry out violent crimes as they pass through border counties. Reported offenses tend to be nuisance crimes and petty theft, like cutting farms’ fences and water supply hoses, stealing clothes, food, and other travel needs, or setting fires. In fact, instead of killing, migrants are dying—in alarmingly high numbers this year—of dehydration and exposure as they get lost in border-area wilderness zones.
Still, the “invasion” narrative seems to be impacting U.S. public opinion, as U.S. authorities encounter large numbers of migrants at the border this year. Though it gives President Joe Biden a 50 percent approval rating, a Washington Post-ABC News poll released July 4 finds only 33 percent of U.S. respondents approving of his handling of immigration at the border; 51 percent disapprove. A mid-June Harvard CAPS/Harris poll gives Biden a 59 percent overall approval rating, but only 36 percent say Biden should continue his current border security policies and 64 percent want him to pursue a stricter approach. A Republican-commissioned poll cited in Politico finds that “53 percent of voters say they are less likely to support Democrats for Congress because of the increase in migrants at the border.”
Opinion articles by former Bush White House official Karl Rove and former El Paso Representative and Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, two individuals who share very few views, coincide in noting an increase in anti-immigrant sentiment among Latino residents of Texas border counties. This voting bloc has long gone Democratic but gave Biden a narrower victory margin in 2020. Rove sees these voters shifting Republican “because their border communities are the first to bear the costs of rising illegal immigration.” O’Rourke says his get-out-the-vote organization’s “deep canvassing efforts” in border areas “reveal that fears of immigrants bringing crime over the border rank as a top concern for residents.”
House Subcommittee Passes Homeland Security Appropriations Bill
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security met on June 30 to mark up (amend and approve) its draft of the 2022 DHS appropriations bill. The Subcommittee approved the draft by a voice vote. The bill, which funds the DHS budget for fiscal 2022, now goes on to the full Appropriations Committee, which is to mark up the bill on July 13. It then goes to the full House of Representatives, likely before the August congressional recess.
The bill reflects the priorities of the House’s Democratic majority. Though the Senate has a bare Democratic majority, we can expect that chamber’s Appropriations Committee—which is split between 15 Democrats and 15 Republicans—to come up with a more conservative bill when it meets, probably in September.
The House bill provides DHS with $52.81 billion in funding for fiscal 2022, a $934 million increase over 2021:
- CBP would get $14.11 billion in net discretionary appropriations. This would be a cut: “$927 million below the fiscal year 2021 enacted level and $456 million below the [Biden administration’s] request.”
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would get $7.97 billion in discretionary appropriations, almost identical to 2021 and to the administration’s request. However, ICE would see its detention and deportation budget (Civil Immigration Enforcement Operations) cut by $331.6 million from 2021 levels, to $3.79 billion. ICE’s investigative arm, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), would increase $124.2 million over 2021, to $2.26 billion.
Some of the most significant adjustments in the House appropriators’ bill include the following.
- Border wall: the bill provides no funding for additional border barriers. It would rescind $2.06 billion from prior years’ appropriations for wall-building. It authorizes up to $100 million of prior years’ money for environmental mitigation activities, authorizing their transfer to the Department of Interior for that purpose.
- CBP’s technology budget would increase by $132 million, with emphases on “non-intrusive imaging technology,” “border technology,” “innovative technology,” “port of entry technology,” body-worn cameras, and video recording tech inside Border Patrol stations.
- Ports of entry: $655 million would go for “construction and modernization of land port of entry facilities.”
- No money would go toward increasing Border Patrol’s authorized staffing level.
- ICE detention: The bill would give ICE enough funding ($2.46 billion) to detain an average of 28,500 single adults per day. ICE’s current population is 27,000. It would require DHS “to provide detained migrants access to legal counsel, including prospective pro bono counsel.”
- Alternatives to detention (ATD) are a big focus of the bill. Subcommittee Chair Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-California) cites “a commitment to the humane treatment of migrants through increased funding for Alternatives to Detention with case management services and reduced lengths of stay in detention for asylum seekers who don’t pose a flight risk and are not a threat to public safety or national security.” ICE’s ATD budget would increase by $34.5 million, to $475 million. The bill would increase, from $5 million to $15 million, an Alternatives to Detention Case Management Pilot Program managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
- Processing of newly arrived migrants is also a big priority. “I continue to have serious concerns regarding the physical and mental wellbeing of individuals, particularly children, at border facilities,” reads a quote from Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut). “I am proud that this bill respects their dignity by improving conditions in CPB [sic.] short-term holding facilities, investing in alternatives to detention, making processing quicker and more efficient, and reducing backlogs of immigration, refugee, and asylum applications.” The bill would allocate $170 million to build Integrated Migrant Processing Centers at the border, and would give ICE $100 million, to be administered by FEMA, for “a non-custodial, community-based shelter grant program for immigration processing, ATD enrollment, and provision of case management services for migrants.”
- Internal controls of border and migration enforcement agencies would be strengthened by a one-quarter increase over 2021 levels, to $42.2 million, in the budget of DHS’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL). The Immigration Detention Ombudsman’s Office would get a $304,000 increase over 2021, to $20.3 million.
- The bill authorizes the use of CBP and ICE funds to support reunification of migrant families separated during the Trump administration. It would prohibit funding to detain or remove an undocumented person, usually a relative, applying to sponsor a child who arrived at the border unaccompanied.
- Human Rights First and the El Paso-based Hope Border Institute collaborated on a report about the Biden administration’s use of the “Title 42” pandemic border closure and rapid migrant expulsion policy, in place since March 2020, in the El Paso area. It finds that expelled asylum seekers have been exposed to danger on the Mexican side of the border, and that recent humanitarian exceptions for some of the most vulnerable asylum seekers do “not comply with U.S. asylum law or treaty obligations.” These exceptions appear to favor migrants who are Spanish-speaking and are neither Black nor Indigenous. “Faith-led organizations, humanitarian groups, legal services organizations, and other volunteers stand ready in the El Paso region to welcome these asylum seekers and help them reach their destinations in the United States,” the report concludes.
- Reuters, CNN, and Politico covered the Title 42 policy’s likely imminent end. The pandemic provision got used to expel undocumented migrants at the border over 900,000 times since March 2020, over 500,000 of those times during Joe Biden’s presidency. The Biden administration may soon stop applying Title 42 to asylum-seeking families. “It doesn’t make sense to keep it in place if it’s not actually deterring migration,” Andrew Selee of the Migration Policy Institute told Reuters. “My hope was that they would buy some time to build a real functioning system at the border. But that didn’t quite happen.” Officials at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) told CNN that they “are bracing for the eventual lifting of border restrictions” and “some are concerned about staffing and whether there are enough agents and officers to process an increased number of individuals.” Politico warns that “Republicans plan to highlight any increase in migrants or delays in processing them in campaign ads, mailers and debates in races all over the country as part of a long-planned strategy to use immigration to try to retake Congress in the midterm elections next year.”
- At Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers, where the agency and its contractors have given at least one vaccine dose to only 20 percent of detainees, the New York Times reports “major surges in coronavirus infections.”
- As migrants from countries other than Mexico and Central America arrive at the border in greater numbers (as noted in two of our last three updates), a Washington Post visualization shows the different parts of the border where different nationalities are tending to arrive. The concentration of people from different countries in different regions is “a migration pattern that U.S. officials say they have never seen to this degree.”
- The Supreme Court agreed with a Biden administration request to vacate previous district and circuit court decisions in favor of the Sierra Club and Southern Border Communities Coalition, which had sued to challenge the Trump administration’s 2019 border wall “emergency” declaration. The Biden administration asked that the Supreme Court not hear the challenge due to “changed circumstances,” and the case now goes back to district court.
- “My message to the Biden administration is this,” writes former WOLA director Joy Olson, who is just back from a trip to sites along the Texas-Mexico border. “Stop pretending that you control things that you don’t and start opening more legal pathways for migration and protection that you do control.”