The proposal includes $861 million to address the root causes of immigration from Central America.
The Biden administration sent its discretionary funding request for fiscal year 2022 to Congress on Friday, asking, among other things, for a major investment to tackle a number of long-simmering immigration issues.
President Joe Biden requested $52 billion in overall funding for the Department of Homeland Security, approximately the same amount that the prior administration had requested for fiscal year 2021.
"The discretionary request supports the promise of a fair and equitable immigration system that welcomes immigrants and reflects the Nation's values," the budget request read.
As part of that request, the budget suggested an infusion of $861 million to address the root causes of immigration from Central America — an assignment for which Biden has tapped Vice President Kamala Harris to take the lead.
The request is the first step toward a four-year commitment of $4 billion, the administration said.
Directing funding back to the region is an attempt to reverse the damage done under Donald Trump, who slashed aid to several Central American countries previously. Those cuts only served to worsen existing problems, including growing poverty, that have prompted many immigrants to flee their homes in search of refuge in the United States.
To repair and rebuild the refugee program decimated under the Trump administration, which cut the admissions cap to a dismal 15,000, Biden requested more than $10 billion in humanitarian assistance as part of the overall State Department budget and other international programs. He reiterated his commitment to raising the refugee admissions cap to 125,000, which would be the highest limit in 30 years.
The budget request would direct $4.3 billion under the Health and Human Services budget to support resettlement of refugees entering the United States under the increased ceiling.
"In addition, the discretionary request redresses past wrongs by providing resources for critical supportive services—including trauma and mental health services—to children cruelly separated from their families under the previous administration," it read.
Biden also requested $345 million for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to adjudicate asylum and naturalization cases, which have been backlogged for years.
Regarding the U.S.-Mexico border, Biden's budget requested $1.2 billion to address border infrastructure, including by modernizing land ports of entry and investing in better security technology, and to ensure proper treatment of immigrants in Customs and Border Protection custody.
The budget will not provide any money for border wall construction and instead proposed Congress cancel the remaining unobligated funding from under the Trump administration.
Additionally, part of Biden's $35.2 billion budget request for the Justice Department would work to reduce the backlog of nearly 1.3 million outstanding immigration court cases. The administration requested to raise the courts' budget by 21% to $891 million, in order to hire 100 additional judges and support staff.
Immigration experts have already begun weighing in on the budget proposal with mixed reactions.
Gregory Chen, director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, tweeted his approval of the funding for Central America, asylum adjudication, and the refugee program, but added that more needed to be done beyond just increasing funds to tackle the backlog of immigration cases.
"More funds to hire 100 judge teams will not address the crisis in the courts' integrity and the 1.3M case backlog," he wrote. "Reprioritization of cases and reform is needed."
Jorge Loweree, policy director at the American Immigration Council, criticized Biden's decision to maintain the same DHS funding levels as the previous fiscal year.
"This is a missed opportunity to institute transformative change across the department," he tweeted.
Putting the request into context, he added, "Keep in mind that @CBP received a record $17.7B last year, and @ICE received $8.3B – the second largest funding level in its history."
Chen echoed that disapproval of the administration's decision not to decrease funding related to immigration detention, "even though detention is down."
Biden's full budget request, which will include more detail on his proposals, is expected in May.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.