Tucked inside the stopgap spending bill that cleared Congress Thursday night was $1.6 billion to help the Biden administration deal with the growing number of illegal immigrant kids jumping the southern border.
The cash didn’t get much attention, but its inclusion in the bill was an acknowledgment of the ongoing severity of the problem, which the administration at one point had labeled “seasonal” but which is now about to stretch into a second calendar year.
The money is aimed at helping Health and Human Services shelter tens of thousands of migrant children and try to find sponsors to take them into their homes here.
The $1.6 billion was “disguised in legislative language” in the bill, said Rob Law, director of regulatory affairs and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies.
The bill obliquely allocates $1.6 billion to an “account specified and for the activities specified in section 141 of this Act.” Section 141 was part of the first stopgap spending bill Congress passed in late September that included a $2.5 billion cash infusion.
Combined, that means Congress has now had to rush $4.1 billion to HHS in little more than two months to handle the explosion of unaccompanied illegal immigrant juveniles who continue to pour across the border.
Under the law juveniles from noncontiguous countries, known in government-speak as Unaccompanied Alien Children or UACs, are considered a special border case and are required to be quickly transferred out of Homeland Security’s custody and into the care of HHS.
A record UAC surge, spurred by Biden administration policy changes, overwhelmed the government this year.
At one point last spring, HHS had more than 22,000 of the UACs in its shelters.
By October, that figure had been whittled down to less than 11,000. But it has since shot up, and as of Wednesday was flirting with 13,000.
Hundreds of UACs are still arriving each day.
HHS isn’t the only agency reeling from an overload of immigration work in the Biden era. Customs and Border Protection, the border agency, is in the middle of a record year of illegal activity.
Yet CBP has not received extra money.
Meanwhile, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the legal immigration arm of Homeland Security, collected hundreds of millions of dollars from Congress in the September funding bill to handle its surging refugee cases.
“Instead of giving CBP the resources they need to combat the Biden border crisis, Democrats are rewarding the open border policies at taxpayer expense by giving HHS $1.6 billion for the UACs thus administration enticed to come to the country unlawfully,” Mr. Law, who served as a senior official at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, told The Washington Times.
In addition to the money for UACs, the new spending bill also included $7 billion for the Biden administration to bring in more evacuees from Afghanistan, and to process, release and care for the 70,000 or so evacuees who’ve already reached U.S. soil.
Democrats cheered the money as the latest installment making good on America’s promise to help those who helped the 20-year U.S. war effort.
But Republicans said the no-strings cash was misplaced, at a time when Congress still struggles to get answers on who was left behind, who exactly was evacuated, and what’s happening with them now.
The $7 billion comes on top of $6 billion allocated in September for the evacuation effort. That previous pot of money came with the demand that Homeland Security officials produce a report on how the money was being spent. The report was due Nov. 30.
Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican, said the administration missed that deadline.
“Listen, we gave DHS $6 billion and said, ‘We’re going to allocate this money to you. We just want to know who we’re allocating it to and what it’s going to be used for.’ That doesn’t seem unreasonable,” he said. “But not only is this body not holding DHS Accountable for not answering our questions, we’re handing them $7 billion more tonight. Does anyone else see this as an issue?”
Mr. Lankford also blasted the request for money for the UACs, saying the administration previously dipped into coronavirus funds and has now gotten more than $4 billion in new money.
“May I remind you how large of a figure that is, an addition $4 billion,” he told colleagues in a floor speech Thursday.