Chairwoman Roybal-Allard Statement at Hearing on FY 2021 CBP Budget Request

2020-02-27 09:30

Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Chair of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's hearing on the Fiscal Year 2021 budget request for U.S. Customs and Border Protection:

Today, we welcome the Acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Mark Morgan.  Mr. Morgan, thank you for being here today.  We look forward to getting your perspective on CBP’s priorities and requirements for fiscal year 2021.

The fiscal year 2021 budget proposes $15.6 billion in discretionary funding for CBP, an increase of $714 million above the current year level.  The total includes $2 billion for the construction of an additional 82 miles of border barriers, an increase of $625 million over the current year appropriation, and nearly 88 percent of the total FY 2021 increase for CBP overall.

I have obvious concerns about spending another $2 billion on additional border barriers.  But aside from any debate we might have about them, this administration continues to circumvent the will of Congress by diverting billions of dollars above what Congress specifically appropriates for this activity.

The House bill will simply not include this funding.

Even more to the point, however, is that the funding CBP proposes for border barriers would crowd out other investments that we all agree are high priority. 

For instance, it is unclear how many CBP Officers are funded or even sustained in the proposed budget.  Congress has funded over 2,000 additional officers over the last two years, but your budget does not annualize any of the positions.  At the same time, you propose funding to annualize support for Border Patrol agent positions that were specifically not funded by Congress.  What explains this mismatch in budgeting?

You and I have spoken about the significant challenges you and CBP face.  I am committed to improving our security at and between the ports of entry – and facilitating trade and travel.  But we must do it in a way that is consistent with our national values and commitment to those in need.  We must get the balance right, and so far, that is not happening the way it should.

Specifically, I remain concerned about the treatment of single adults, families, and unaccompanied children who are apprehended by the Border Patrol.  We must make every effort to ensure that all migrants are treated with respect and processed in a timely and safe manner. 

And CBP must work more closely with non-profit groups who are available to help migrants both during and after their time in CBP custody.  Failing to do so is not only a lost opportunity for migrants in desperate circumstances, it is also a lost opportunity for CBP.

For migrants in the Migrant Protection Protocol program – or MPP – and those in expedited removal programs who express a fear of return, CBP must ensure meaningful access to counsel – something that is not happening today even though we have repeatedly tried to work with you to address the issue. 

For programs that remove or return migrants to countries other than their own, such as MPP and the Asylum Cooperative Agreements, how does DHS ensure they will be protected in the destination country?  CBP cannot simply wash its hands of responsibility for their safety.  The U.S. State Department has issued advisories warning against travel to some of these countries.

CBP’s mission is not limited to detaining and removing migrants from the United States; it also includes ensuring due process for migrants, including the opportunity to seek asylum or other forms of relief.  CBP should be working harder to balance those priorities. 

So far, CBP and the department have repeatedly erred heavily on the side of expedited removal, making it harder for migrants to seek asylum and gain access to legal counsel in the United States.  So far, efforts to address concerns about the safety and civil rights of migrants appear to be more of an afterthought – if even acknowledged and addressed at all by DHS.

Additionally, while the department has provided some information to us on the MPP program, it has provided very little on the new expedited removal programs; we don’t even have complete descriptions of how these programs work.

Mr. Morgan, responses to our requests for information are not optional – the information we seek is necessary to carrying out our constitutional responsibilities.  If CBP continues to deny access to information, the committee will have no option but to legally compel compliance through the fiscal year 2021 funding bill.  I hope it will not come to that.

116th Congress