President Biden’s new budget would take $2 billion in unspent border wall money and allow it to be spent instead on building roads or cutting down brush along the U.S.-Mexico boundary.
The money was approved during the Trump administration, but still unspent at the time Mr. Biden took over last year. He had asked Congress to rescind the money, but lawmakers rejected that idea in the new 2022 spending bill passed earlier this month.
In his 2023 proposal, Mr. Biden takes a different tack, seeking to expand the types of things the money can be spent on.
Mr. Biden said the money should be allowed to go to technology, roads, “eradication of vegetation,” environmental repairs and “scientific studies” of past border wall construction.
The president also called for Homeland Security to send $225 million from the wall account over to the land management agencies in the Interior and Agriculture departments.
The president said he wants that money used to repair damage he said occurred from wall-building in the Trump years.
“They’re trying to burn up the money some other way,” said Andrew R. “Art” Arthur, resident fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies.
Homeland Security didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The wall changes were part of Mr. Biden’s $56.7 billion request for Homeland Security spending in his fiscal 2023 proposal.
That figure would actually amount to a cut of nearly $1 billion compared to 2022, which Congress just finalized earlier this month.
Some parts of the sprawling Homeland Security Department make out better than others.
The president called for a massive infusion of taxpayer cash into U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency that’s supposed to be funded by fees paid by immigrants.
SEE ALSO: Biden’s $5.8T budget would raise taxes on wealthy, spend big on police, climate change and military
USCIS has seen its finances fall out of whack in recent years as it’s taken on more humanitarian work, without increasing fees to cover the cost of those applications.
Mr. Biden asked for Congress to slip an extra $765 million in taxpayer money into the agency’s pocket to help it cover the gap.
But immigration enforcement agencies don’t fare as well.
Mr. Biden’s 2023 proposals for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, the interior and border enforcement agencies, are both lower than Congress just enacted for 2022.
In a statement announcing the budget proposal, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas pointed to 300 new Border Patrol agents included in the plan, as well as 300 more “processing coordinators” to do some administrative tasks and free up other Border Patrol agents to get back on “line watch” duties.
He also pointed to the additional money for USCIS, saying it should help with illegal immigrants who make asylum claims.
“Notably, the Budget makes smart investments in technology to keep our borders secure and includes funding that will allow us to process asylum claims more efficiently as we build a safe, orderly, and humane immigration system,” the secretary said.
R.J. Hauman, head of government relations at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the budget seemed to be an attempt to “normalize” the massive surge of illegal immigration that’s taken place since Mr. Biden took office.
“At this point, they might as well change the name of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to U.S. Customs and Border Processing,” he said. “If lawmakers on Capitol Hill truly care about securing our border, they can start by throwing this budget request in the trash.”
During the Trump era, Homeland Security and the Defense Department built 458 miles of wall, based on money Congress authorized and money President Trump shifted from Pentagon accounts.
Homeland Security had plans to build nearly 300 more miles, but that was cut off by Mr. Biden’s election.
The new president had vowed not to build “another foot” of the wall.
That promise is being tested by political and border realities.
Homeland Security has already announced it would move to plug gaps left in the wall when Mr. Biden halted construction. And Congress’ refusal to erase the $2 billion in money already in the wall-building account could tie Mr. Biden’s hands legally.
The Government Accountability Office has ruled that the president’s halt is legal — for now — because he hasn’t outright refused to spend the money, but is doing more due diligence on the actual spending.
But at some point his refusal could cross a line into illegal obstinance, violating Congress’s power of the purse. That’s likely one reason for Mr. Biden’s request to expand the permissible uses of the wall money.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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