As the border crisis continues to roil the Biden administration, a bipartisan bill introduced on Thursday would demand the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) come up with a plan to deal with migrant surges — and create a $1 billion fund to allow it to quickly respond.
The Border Surge Response and Resilience Act, introduced by Reps. John Katko, R-N.Y., and Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, would require the agency to put in place a plan to “respond to irregular migration surges at the border.”
The bill would also create an “irregular migration surge border response fund,” by which supplemental funding would be activated by metrics related to the border. The initial pot would be for $1 billion and would be topped up each year depending on how much had been spent the previous year.
It’s a rare bipartisan move in a political environment that has frequently seen Republicans blaming the Biden administration for the crisis, and the White House and Democratic allies downplaying it as a “challenge” and blaming it on the dismantling of pathways by the Trump administration.
“After hearing firsthand from border patrol agents, it’s clear they need interagency backup and accountability across the federal government to appropriately handle border surges,” Katko, who serves as ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement. “Agents and officers on the frontlines are suffering through another crisis, in the midst of a global pandemic, and some still haven’t been vaccinated. We need greater confidence that the Federal Government can manage these crises going forward. This bill would do just that.”
Cuellar, a Texas Democrat who has been sounding the alarm about the crisis, said the bill was about making sure DHS was “proactive” about managing surges to the border.
“This bipartisan legislation will allow the federal government to employ a whole-of-government approach to create a response framework that anticipates migration surges, allowing them to quickly shift resources and take immediate action to mitigate a humanitarian crisis,” Cuellar said. “As the Vice Chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Appropriations, I will continue to fund programs that work to address current and future migrant flows, and also develop bipartisan legislation to address border challenges.”
The plan would include specific roles and responsibilities of each agency, moves to “enhance security and reinforce infrastructure” and streamline screening processes. It would also include methods to request interagency assistance, expand processing capacity quickly and coordinate with the secretary.
The bill also demands the plan would ensure no individual is released into the U.S. during a public health emergency if they have a communicable disease — a reference to reports of COVID-positive migrants being released into the interior in Texas last month.
The bill also envisions a regular intel analysis that looks at border trends (including demographics), migrant perceptions of the U.S. policy and tactics used by smugglers. This comes as the Biden administration has been pushing back against the perception south of the border that the border is “open” — something the administration has furiously claimed is not the case, despite unraveling a number of Trump-era border protections.
The lawmakers say the bill is built on recommendations from the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) in allowing DHS to get more resources quickly via the fund, without having to divert funds from other security priorities or wait for Congress. Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas just last week fired more than 30 members of that council.
The fund would be limited to needs directly related to the crisis, such as replenishing consumables, overtime for overworked officials, expanding processing and detailing DHS personnel.
The bill’s introduction comes just as more centers have been opening to process migrants, and press toured a packed facility in Donna, Texas, showing migrants side-by-side in cramped facilities. A top Border Patrol official told reporters that he “fully expects” there to be more than a million migrant encounters this year.