Chairwoman Roybal-Allard Statement at Full Committee Markup of FY 2021 Homeland Security Funding Bill

2020-07-15 09:25

WASHINGTON — Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Chair of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Appropriations Committee's markup of the fiscal year 2021 Homeland Security bill:

I’d like to begin by joining my colleagues in recognizing Chairwoman Lowey for her nearly 32 years of service to our country. Her wisdom, passion, and commitment on behalf of her constituents and the American people will be greatly missed in the House of Representatives and throughout the country. Madam Chair, it truly has been a privilege and an honor to serve with you.

To my Ranking Member Mr. Fleischmann, I thank you for your input and collaboration in putting together the bill before us. It has been a pleasure to work with you on this very challenging bill.

While there are areas of disagreement, primarily around immigration issues, I believe most of our bill represents a bipartisan agreement. 

However, I don’t want to minimize the disagreements on immigration. They are significant and important. It is unfortunate that over the past three-and-a-half years, progress on a fair and just immigration reform effort has been severely undermined by the divisive policies and rhetoric of the current Administration.

This includes the President’s continued efforts to expel the Dreamers even though the majority of our nation, including business leaders, oppose this effort.  Americans understand the unfairness of such an action and the pain and suffering it would cause. They also understand the value of Dreamers to our country and our future.

I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the Department’s personnel who work on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. Many have contracted the virus, and sadly several have lost their lives to it. We owe them and their family our sincere gratitude.

I also want to recognize the pandemic’s impact on migrants, especially those continuously held in detention facilities. Many have contracted the virus, and sadly, some also have died.

In my view, with infections in ICE detention facilities rising, to protect both staff and migrants, alternatives to detention should be used for anyone not a threat to public safety, particularly families.

Before discussing the bill, I’d also like to mention three areas the Subcommittee is working on.

Given the heightened role FEMA and TSA are playing during the pandemic, we continue to have discussions on additional requirements they may have for fiscal year 2021.

We are prepared to address any additional needs related to the pandemic later in the process based on formal requests from the Administration.

Similarly, in light of the pandemic’s impact on CBP fee revenue, we are monitoring the need for additional funding for customs officer salaries in FY21.

The depletion of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services fee revenue is not addressed in our bill because it will not be enacted in time to help.

Given the urgency of the matter, it is surprising that the Administration still has not formally requested supplemental funding for the agency and its workforce.

Nevertheless, we will continue our bipartisan discussions with the Judiciary Committee and USCIS on the agency’s impending shortfall.  We will keep working to ensure there are no furloughs of USCIS personnel, which would severely undermine the agency’s important mission.

One possible vehicle for addressing the USCIS funding shortfall is the next COVID supplemental bill, which increasingly looks as if it could move through Congress later this month.

Also, on a more positive note, fee receipts have increased significantly in the last few months, making any shortfall much less than the $1.2 billion the agency originally suggested – unless new policies are implemented by the Administration that would further reduce USCIS fee revenue.

Now, on to the bill.  Members, we have worked hard to find the right balance of investments across the Department’s broad spectrum of missions, and to ensure those investments are consistent with our American values.

We have also done our best to address as many of your concerns and priorities as possible, and those of House members more broadly. It has not been easy: 

The Subcommittee received 3,850 member requests. This is a 20 percent increase over last year, including over 1,800 requests for bill or report language, an increase of 50 percent.

The bill recommends $56 billion in total discretionary appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security, including:

•            $50.7 billion within the bill’s 302(b) discretionary allocation;

•            $5.1 billion as a budget cap adjustment for major disaster response and recovery activities; and

•            $215 million for the Coast Guard’s overseas contingency operations.

The amount within the discretionary allocation is $250 million above the fiscal year 2020 level.

Throughout the bill, we also provide increases above the request to help maintain current services and we invest in high priority capabilities and activities across the broad spectrum of homeland security missions.

No funding is provided for border barriers. And because the Administration continues to ignore the will of Congress by diverting funding to barrier construction beyond what Congress appropriates, the bill rescinds unobligated border barrier funding and prohibits the diversion of any more funding for that purpose.

The bill invests $222 million above the request for Alternatives to Detention – including $75 million for expanded, non-profit-based case management.

The bill provides funding for an average daily population in ICE custody of 22,000 single adults. This is a significant reduction compared to prior years as we build up capacity and effectiveness of ATD, which is a more humane, appropriate, and cost-effective approach for the vast majority of individuals in removal proceedings, who are not flight risks or threats to the public.

The bill also phases out family detention by the end of this year because detention is no place for families.

The 22,000 level for single adults is based on an analysis of prior year data on what is needed to process recent border crossers and detain individuals who are public safety threats or flight risks.

Currently, the population in ICE detention is steadily decreasing and is now under 23,000, compared to a high point of over 54,000 in detention last August.

That reduction stems from various Administration policies to quickly remove migrants at the border with little or no due process.

The most recent and most damaging policy is to remove the vast majority of migrants almost immediately on the pretext of preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

Extra precaution is certainly warranted during the pandemic, but it does not require the wholesale rejection of our asylum and due process laws and the values on which they are based.

Primarily as a result of that policy, migrant transfers from CBP to ICE custody have dropped substantially, along with the corresponding need for ICE beds.

Therefore, funding for 12,000 of the 22,000 detention beds will not be needed and will remain unavailable as long as the wholesale expulsions tied to the pandemic continue.

Until recently, we worked collaboratively with the Department to provide funding flexibility in the form of limited transfer authority to address unanticipated needs and circumstances. 

That authority has come with the understanding that transfers – and major reprograming – would be implemented only with the concurrence of the Committee.

Unfortunately, last summer – for the first time since the Department was established – the Department violated that understanding by ignoring the Committee’s objections to a proposed transfer and reprograming notification related to immigration enforcement.

To make matters worse, the Department recently sent a transfer and reprogramming notification that proposes to use bipartisan congressional priorities as offsets for CBP’s fee revenue shortfall. 

Those offsets would include funding for body worn cameras, border security technology, multi-role enforcement aircraft, light enforcement helicopters, and non-intrusive inspection systems, which are all critical to CBP’s mission.

The Department has abused the authority provided by Congress. Consequently, the bill includes no authority to transfer funds between accounts and it eliminates most authority to reprogram funds within accounts.

Furthermore, in spite of repeated requests, meetings, and conversations with DHS, including with multiple acting Secretaries themselves, many DHS components consistently take months to respond to bipartisan requests for information needed to fulfill the Committee’s oversight responsibilities. And when we finally do get responses, they are often incomplete if they are provided at all.

Therefore, the bill withholds funding throughout the bill where appropriate, to compel better responsiveness to the Committee’s oversight requirements.

I’ll conclude by again thanking the Ranking Member for his collegiality and constructive input on the bill and report. 

It is unfortunate the controversial issues in our bill overshadow all the good bipartisan work we do together to provide oversight of and transparency in the Department’s activities and to ensure its more than 240,000 personnel have the resources they need to successfully carry out its many important missions.

I also thank the Subcommittee staff, both majority and minority, who have worked tirelessly over the last few months in helping to draft this bill under very challenging circumstances.

They include Darek Newby, Kris Mallard, Karyn Richman, Bob Joachim, Mike Herman, Elizabeth Lapham, Justin Smith, and, for the minority, Dena Baron and Adam Koziatek, and in the Ranking Member’s personal office, Daniel Tidwell.

My personal staff includes Ernesto Rodriguez, Isabel Sanchez, and former staffer Victoria Rivas.

This is a good bill, and I urge my colleagues to support it.


116th Congress