Republicans largely aren’t interested in additional government resources to manage any expected increase of migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border if the Biden administration follows through on a plan to stop pandemic-era border expulsions next month.
Senate Republicans on Tuesday threw cold water on the possibility of supplemental funding, which might be used to shore up border patrol activities, fund detention centers, or provide food, shelter, and medical care for migrants.
Republicans are rankled in particular by the idea of spending money to address the fallout from an administration decision they oppose in the first place — even as they criticize the government’s current preparedness.
The Biden administration is preparing to stop using the public health directive known as Title 42 to expel asylum-seeking migrants at the border. Government officials say daily migrant encounters after the rescission of Title 42 could reach 18,000, nearly three times current levels.
“I don’t see why they need more money when you have an open border,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. “I mean, do they need to hire more people to say, ‘Right this way; come on in?’”
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., a fierce opponent of the Biden administration’s immigration policies, said the government right now has “the dollars that they need.”
“No, they don’t need more money to be able to implement bad policy,” Lankford said.
And Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., said he was open to the repurposing of current funds for border management. “There’s plenty of money out there sloshing around,” Braun said. “We’ve never spent or borrowed more in the history of the country. We don’t need to do new funding.”
Most Republicans and even a handful of Democrats have expressed concern that the government is not prepared. After the Biden administration stopped using Title 42 to expel unaccompanied children in spring 2021, thousands of migrant children entered the country, forcing the government to quickly set up more than a dozen emergency intake sites to care for them.
Government spending bills in the subsequent months reflected the resources that were needed to manage the increase in arrivals of migrant kids. A stopgap spending bill signed into law last September to avert a government shutdown included $2.5 billion to help provide food, shelter, medical care for unaccompanied migrant children. A second stopgap bill signed into law in December provided another $1.6 billion.
On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security said in a memo that it recently added 600 law enforcement personnel to the border. And by May 23, the department will have the capacity to hold up to 18,000 migrants in tent facilities along the border, an increase from 13,000 when President Joe Biden took office.
Democrats signaled openness to an injection of cash that would shore up an already-strapped U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The Biden administration has requested a slight increase in funding for CBP for fiscal 2023 — roughly $15 billion. That would include more than $5.4 billion for border security operations, up from less than $5 billion this fiscal year.
Congress has not finished its appropriations bills on time in years, increasing the odds it won’t reach agreement on final fiscal 2023 spending before the November elections. That raises the likelihood that extra money to address a policy move in May would have to come in the form of a supplemental spending bill.
Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., who opposes the Title 42 rescission and recently visited the U.S.-Mexico border, said the country needs more personnel, including medical personnel. “We need more technology, and in some cases, we need physical barriers,” Hassan said
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., another Democrat who has broken with the president on Title 42, agreed. “I mean, look — as far as manpower and technology, there’s still plenty of demands for it, both on the north and the southern border,” Tester said.
The prospect of additional border resources also won approval from Democrats who have backed the Biden administration plans, who argue that Title 42 restrictions block the legal right of migrants to seek asylum at U.S. borders under U.S. immigration law.
“Well, I’m for America’s immigration policies reflecting our values, and they didn’t under President Trump,” Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md, said. “So I’m for reversing those policies, but you have to do it in an orderly way, and that requires resources.”
Republicans see Title 42 as an opening to force tough votes for some Democrats who face acute pressure as they seek reelection in close races this November. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky pointed to the border, along with inflation and crime, as the three top legislative priorities for Senate Republicans if they take control in November.
Partisan divisions on Title 42 — but also on what government resources are needed to manage the consequences of its rescission — could threaten future attempts to pass unrelated spending bills. Earlier this month, Republican demands to hold a vote on an amendment reinstating Title 42 torpedoed a COVID-19 aid package.
On Tuesday, as some Democrats said they planned to pair that COVID-19 aid package with new supplemental appropriations for Ukraine, McConnell told reporters that the Senate needed a vote “at some point” on keeping the Title 42 policy in place. Senate Republicans plan to hold a press conference Wednesday about Title 42.
“I’ve not been convinced that they don’t have the resources now to secure the border,” said Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla. “They’ve just made the decision not to finish the wall, they’ve made the decision to open the border.”
A federal court also threw some doubt on the administration’s plans. In a challenge brought by Republican-led states, a judge indicated he intends to block the Biden administration from winding down the pandemic-related asylum restrictions — a sign he ultimately might grant the states’ request to halt the end of Title 42 later this month.