President Biden will ask taxpayers to foot the bill for processing asylum applications and cutting into the backlog of other immigration cases at Homeland Security, the department’s chief told Congress on Wednesday.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which handles legal immigration applications, is supposed to be funded by fees paid by immigrants themselves.
But Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Mr. Biden‘s budget, to be sent to Congress later this week, will ask for $345 million in taxpayer money “to address naturalization, asylum, and other program backlogs.”
Mr. Mayorkas also teased other parts of the budget, saying he’s asking for more money for ICE’s criminal investigators, though he did not mention any plans to boost the immigration enforcement and deportation side of the agency.
Mr. Biden‘s budget also will ask for $540 million for climate change emergency planning.
The request for taxpayer money for USCIS amounts to more than 10% of the agency’s annual budget, almost all of which currently comes from the fees paid for applications for citizenship, business visas and other immigration benefits.
Previous administrations have also sought to siphon taxpayer money to cut into backlogs.
The theory behind the fee-funded agency is that immigrants should not be a burden on taxpayers. Every several years USCIS is supposed to adjust its fees to make sure it is bringing in enough cash to pay for its workload.
That also means legal immigrants pay to cover costs for applications that don’t charge fees, such as asylum cases.
The agency has become deeply imbalanced in recent years — one agency employee estimated about a third of cases don’t pay fees — as asylum cases and other fee-free cases have surged.
Adding to that backlog are tens of thousands of new cases arising from the new migrant surge under Mr. Biden.