Roybal-Allard statement at subcommittee markup of FY 2019 Homeland Security appropriations bill
Chairman Yoder, I am happy to join you at your first markup as chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee; you have certainly hit the ground running. I look forward to building the same kind of good working relationship with you that I had with Chairman Carter, and I believe we are already off to a good start.
I’m happy to say that the process over the last month in producing this bill has been a good one, consistent with the tradition of this subcommittee, even though there are significant parts of the bill where we are not in agreement.
I’ll get to those areas in a moment, but first I want to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for a number of very positive, bipartisan funding initiatives in the bill.
For example, the bill provides:
- Funding above the request for an additional 371 customs officers;
- $3.7 million for specialized personnel to provide medical and mental health screening and referral services for unaccompanied children in CBP custody;
- $242 million above the request to significantly expand the use of non-intrusive inspection technology at the land ports of entry;
- An increase of $10 million for the HSI Victim Assistance Program, which coordinates services for trafficking and forced labor victims who help ICE with criminal investigations;
- An increase of $9.2 million for child exploitation investigation programs;
- An increase of $2 million to increase the child care subsidy for Coast Guard personnel;
- Significant additional investments above the request in cybersecurity, with a particular focus on election systems security; and
- Level or increased funding for FEMA preparedness grant programs.
There are also many constructive reporting and oversight directives in the report, including requirements related to ICE detention standards and inspections, the treatment of families in DHS custody, and the processing of asylum seekers.
The family separation fiasco of the last several weeks is testament to the need for careful oversight of the department’s activities. The administration’s zeal to aggressively enforce immigration law can never be an excuse to ignore the fundamental civil rights of individuals, including the right to keep one’s family intact.
Mr. Chairman, I also very much appreciate the lack of new, controversial general provisions in the bill.
While there is much that is good about this bill, there are a few areas – representing a significant amount of the bill’s funding – that I simply cannot support.
The bill would increase the average daily population in detention from the current 40,520 to 44,000, and support the hiring of more than 300 ICE Enforcement and Removal officers. While well short of the requested 52,000 detention beds and 2,200 ERO officers, the bill would nevertheless support the administration’s efforts to vastly expand immigration enforcement activities in the interior of the United States. Those efforts are increasingly upending the lives of individuals and families who have lived in this country for years or decades and are contributing members of our communities.
Another major area of concern is the $4.9 billion for new border fencing. That’s an increase of $3.3 billion above the requested amount. I am simply not convinced that the benefits of this infrastructure come close to justifying the expense, which ranges between $25 million and $32 million per mile, a cost that doesn’t take into consideration future year operations and maintenance.
There are many other priorities – in this bill and others – that we should be using this funding to support.
What comes first to mind is $750 million for a heavy polar icebreaker for the Coast Guard. This funding was requested by the administration but is not funded in the bill. We should be acquiring at least two, if not three heavy icebreakers in FY 19. The United States is at an increasing disadvantage in the Arctic compared to the Russian fleet, and we can no longer afford to delay.
Among other things, I would also like to see an even stronger investment in new customs officers, an increase above last year for the Science and Technology Directorate, and a restoration of TSA’s Law Enforcement Officer Reimbursement Program and Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response teams.
Mr. Chairman, I look forward to continuing to work together, so that by the end of this year’s appropriations process, we can produce a final bill that both sides can fully support. In the meantime, I want to thank you again for your leadership as the new chairman of the subcommittee. You have been open to input from the minority, willing to find compromise whenever possible, and faithful to the institutional oversight role of the subcommittee.
Mr. Chairman, I also want to thank the majority staff, who continue to be highly professional and collegial, and whose knowledge about the department serves the committee so well.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.