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Biden sets immigration priorities in funding plan: resettling refugees and housing migrant children

In his first funding request to Congress, President Biden outlined a starkly different set of immigration policy priorities than his predecessor, asking for billions to resettle refugees, house migrant children, speed up U.S. citizenship petitions and process asylum-seekers along the southern border.

The White House on Friday unveiled the president's $1.5 trillion discretionary funding request for fiscal year 2022, which serves a preview for a more comprehensive spending plan expected in the late spring. The preliminary spending request to Congress includes several multi-billion-dollar immigration-related allocations for the Departments of Homeland Security, State and Health and Human Services.

The proposal allocates $52 billion for the Department of Homeland Security, roughly the same amount provided in 2021. About $1.2 billion would be reserved for what the administration calls "effective and modern" border security, including plans to revamp ports of entry, expand technology, curtail human and drug smuggling and improve the processing of migrants and asylum-seekers.

The request submitted to Congress does not include any funds for wall or barrier construction along the U.S.-Mexico border, which Mr. Biden halted on Inauguration Day. In fact, the plan calls for unused border wall construction funds allocated in 2021 to be cancelled.

The number of migrants apprehended along the southern border last month was the highest in two decades, surpassing 172,000. Nearly 19,000 of those encountered in March were unaccompanied children, an all-time monthly high that has strained the government's capacity to house them and forced the Biden administration to convert convention centers, work camps and military posts into makeshift shelters. 

The majority of those apprehended in March were adult migrants, whom the Biden administration has continued to expel to Mexico or their home countries under a public health authority first invoked under President Trump.

Under Mr. Biden's plan, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) would receive $345 million in funding to expedite the adjudication of applications for asylum and U.S. citizenship; interview refugees; and modernize agency operations. The administration said the request will also provide an unspecified amount of funding for programs designed to serve as alternatives to detaining migrant families while their requests for asylum or other forms of U.S. sanctuary are reviewed. 

Migrants cross into Texas from Mexican border
Young migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador wait to board the bus after crossing the Rio Grande river from Mexico aboard to US, in La Joya, Texas, United States on April 8, 2021. Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The plan would provide an additional $84 million to fund the investigation of workplace complaints, including those related to white supremacy, among employees at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

In a statement, DHS Secretary Mayorkas said the president's plan includes "smart" investments that will allow his department to "better manage the border" and "promote a humane and efficient immigration system."

The Office of Refugee Resettlement, a branch of the Department Health and Human Services, would have a $4.1 billion budget under the proposal, which said the allocation is designed to help the administration resettle up to 125,000 refugees in fiscal year 2022. The State Department, which also plays a major role in refugee resettlement, would receive funds for this effort as well, according to the plan.

"The discretionary request proposes the resources necessary to fulfill the President's commitment to rebuild the Nation's badly damaged refugee admissions program and support up to 125,000 admissions in 2022," the Biden administration wrote in its request to Congress.

Mr. Trump slashed admissions of refugees to historic lows, decimating the resettlement infrastructure operated by non-profit and faith-based groups across the country. Earlier this year, Mr. Biden proposed raising the record-low 15,000-person refugee cap to 62,500 spots but he has yet to sign the paperwork required to reverse Trump-era restrictions on who may be resettled in the U.S.

The funding provided to the refugee agency would also be used to process unaccompanied migrant children and provide them with housing and other services like legal counsel, according to the request to Congress. Other funds would be allocated to offer migrant families separated along the U.S.-Mexico border during the Trump administration mental health services.

Mr. Biden's preliminary spending plan would also increase by 21% the funding provided to the nation's immigration courts, which are overseen by the Justice Department. The proposed $157 million in additional funding would be used to hire 100 immigration judges, as well as courtroom staff. The administration said the hirings would help reduce the 1.3 million backlog of pending cases before the immigration courts. 

Overall, the State Department would receive $10 billion to provide humanitarian assistance to displaced people around the world, including refugees fleeing armed conflict. To reduce U.S.-bound migration from Central America, the State Department would have $861 million to finance efforts to mitigate corruption, violence and poverty in the region.

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