- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2021

House Democrats introduced a Homeland Security Department spending bill Tuesday that aims to wipe away large chunks of President Trump’s legacy, including restrictions on deploying agency personnel to police protests and clawing back more than $2 billion in border wall money that lawmakers had already approved.

The legislation rejects Republican calls to hire more Border Patrol agents, cuts the number of detention beds at ICE facilities and pours money into alternatives such as ankle bracelets and counseling programs that are popular with immigrant rights advocates.

Homeland Security Investigations, the detective side of ICE, gets a 6% cash infusion — but also a restriction on any immigration enforcement work. But the detention and deportation side of ICE would be cut by 8%, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the disaster response agency, would be brought in to help with detention.

Even at Customs and Border Protection, which is facing an unprecedented wave of illegal immigration, House Democrats rejected President Biden’s budget plans and called for a 6% cut.

What new money there is goes to the official border crossings, while Border Patrol personnel is frozen at current caps. And $2.06 billion that Congress allocated for wall construction over the past four years would be revoked, effectively ending work on Mr. Trump’s signature campaign issue.

The Biden administration has reversed many executive actions under Mr. Trump, but the Democrats’ bill begins to unravel the legislative policies the previous president won, including the border wall and an expansion of detention space at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“We must do more to protect immigrants, especially children and their families. I am proud that this bill respects their dignity by improving conditions in CPB short-term holding facilities, investing in alternatives to detention, making processing quicker and more efficient, and reducing backlogs of immigration, refugee, and asylum applications,” said Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat and chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

The bill was released a day before Mr. Trump was scheduled to visit the border with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Mr. Trump said he turned a secure border over to the Biden team but has seen the progress falter over the past five months.

“All Biden had to do is leave it the way it was,” Mr. Trump said in a statement last week. “Other countries are emptying their prisons with their worst criminals flowing into our country. Drugs, gangs, and fugitives are pouring in every day. Hospitals, schools, communities, and police are overwhelmed. This is far more than a crisis — our country is being destroyed!”

Mr. Trump also left his mark on legal immigration, overseeing an attempt to force newcomers to foot their bills rather than have them land in taxpayers’ laps.

The House Democrats’ bill reverses that approach and injects nearly a half-billion dollars into an agency that is supposed to be funded from fees paid by migrants.

The money would be used to reduce a backlog of cases at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. USCIS normally would raise its fees on migrants filing applications to cover the costs, but immigrant rights activists say migrants can’t bear additional costs.

The legislation also takes steps to prevent a repeat of last summer, when Homeland Security deployed agents and officers to quell riots from Oregon to the District of Columbia.

Under the new rules, the department secretary must give approval in advance to deploying agents or officers to protests, and every request for assistance, from other federal agencies or local law enforcement, will have to be publicly documented and reported.

The Trump administration was criticized last year when it deployed Homeland Security personnel to Portland, Oregon, to protect a federal courthouse, and sent people to bolster positions around the White House during racial justice demonstrations and riots.

But concerns extend into the Biden administration.

On Tuesday, two top Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee demanded answers on CBP’s deployment of a helicopter over protests against an oil pipeline in Minnesota this month. They called the aircraft’s maneuvers “dangerously low.”

The decision to revoke $2.26 billion in border wall money is particularly controversial during a record-breaking surge of migrants.

Congress allocated the money over the past four years, but the Trump administration had not yet spent it when its tenure ended in January.

Mr. Biden has paused wall construction, but Congress’ chief watchdog has said that pause, although legal for now, cannot continue indefinitely, and at some point the administration will have to spend money Congress has authorized.

Revoking the money would be a way to solve that legal conundrum, yet it may also prove politically tricky. Polling shows the wall is becoming more popular as the border spirals into chaos.

The bill also requires Homeland Security to give illegal immigrants access to lawyers and imposes stricter standards on which migrants can be detained while awaiting their court cases or deportations.

Overall, the House proposal calls for $52.8 billion in base funding for the full Homeland Security Department, up $934 million over 2021. The bill also includes $18.8 billion in disaster response money.

One part of the department getting a major injection of money is the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the federal government’s chief coordinator of defense against cyberattacks.

The agency is getting a 20% boost, or more than three times what Mr. Biden had proposed.

Democrats will hold the first committee action on the House bill Wednesday and expect to put the legislation on the House floor in July.

The proposal, if it emerges, would then have to be married to a corresponding Senate bill, which has not yet been released.

The Homeland Security bill has become the toughest of the 12 annual spending measures Congress is supposed to pass, with immigration issues causing deep rifts between the two parties.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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