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

2020-02-26 10:30

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 the Department of Homeland Security:

Today, we welcome Chad Wolf, the Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.  Thank you for being here this morning.

Mr. Secretary, the FY21 budget proposes $49.7 billion in net discretionary funding for the Department of Homeland Security.  While this is a cut of $750 million below the current year level, the budget also proposes transferring the United States Secret Service to the Treasury Department.  I want to be clear that, absent an enacted law to affect such a transfer, this subcommittee will continue to include funding for the Secret Service in its bill.  When including funding for the Secret Service in the total, the budget request for FY21 is actually $1.78 billion above the current year level.

There are some things in the proposed budget that I believe will find strong bipartisan support, such as funding for the Coast Guard’s second Polar Security Cutter.  However, there are also proposals you should not expect to see funded in the House bill.  Among those are more funding for border barriers and the expansion of detention bed capacity, which I believe are unnecessary, particularly in light of high priority needs such as continuing to hire customs officers to speed the flow of trade and travel at the ports of entry.

Most of today’s hearing will likely focus on immigration enforcement and border security, including serious cases of the abuse of authority by some DHS personnel and contractors.

While the mistreatment of migrants is inexcusable, I would be remiss if I did not also recognize the dedication and commitment of the vast majority of women and men of the Department of Homeland Security who carry out the department’s vital missions that help protect the American public and our country from a wide range of threats.  This includes rescuing and giving aid to Americans following natural disasters, defending us against cyber-attacks, securing our airports, and investigating child exploitation and trafficking.  The subcommittee will continue to work with you to ensure they have the resources needed to carry out the department’s many critical missions.

The members of this subcommittee also have the responsibility to make sure the department and its personnel carry out its mission responsibly lawfully, efficiently, and humanely.  We have always endeavored to work collaboratively with you and your predecessors to fix problems where needed and we will continue to do so, hopefully with the cooperation of the department.  Unfortunately, that is getting harder and harder to do. 

I have been a member of this subcommittee since its creation shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  I cannot remember a time when there was less consensus about immigration and border security, and, from my point of view, a systemic disregard for the rights of migrants, the detained population, and the asylum laws of this country.

In its zeal to shut down the flow of migrants coming to the United States across our southern border, the administration has implemented multiple new programs to expedite the removal process, each of which erodes the due process rights of migrants to seek asylum or other forms of relief from the dangers that they fear.  At every turn – in response to the question of how to balance the department’s dual missions of immigration enforcement and protecting asylum seekers – the administration has erred exclusively and determinedly on the side of enforcement and removal regardless of the circumstances.

The so-called Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP, is a clear and heartbreaking example.  MPP has been implemented with only the most superficial effort to ensure migrants returned to Mexico will in fact be protected, have food, shelter, healthcare, security, and the ability to return for their immigration hearings.  Only the most superficial efforts have been made to ensure migrants have meaningful access to counsel, access which should at the very least be equivalent to what they would have if they had not been placed in MPP.

The devaluing of the rights of migrants goes beyond even the design of these new programs.  Under MPP guidelines, vulnerable populations are not supposed to be placed in the program.  Yet there is a steady stream of reports of pregnant women, individuals with serious health issues or disabilities – including children – and LGBTQ migrants being placed into the program, and, in some cases, coming to harm as a result.

Mr. Secretary, I doubt we will come to agreement on whether this Administration’s immigration policies strike the right balance.  Changing these policies falls under the jurisdiction of the authorizing committees.  However, it is squarely within this subcommittee’s jurisdiction to ensure that the administration’s policies – and the use of funds to implement them – do not run afoul of the humane treatment of migrants, their due process rights, and asylum laws.

Carrying out our oversight responsibilities requires us to have access to the full range of information about how the programs we are funding are being implemented.  Unfortunately, the department and its agencies are not always forthcoming with all the requested information.

While appropriations liaisons and budget officials from CBP, ICE, and USCIS usually do their best to get us the information we need to do our work, they are often not sufficiently empowered to do so.  As a result, we are often stonewalled on getting the requested information.

Mr. Secretary, as the head of the Department of Homeland Security, you set the tone and establish the rules that will guide the department in meeting our shared goals of protecting our homeland and our American values.  If we are to be successful in achieving these goals, we need your support and cooperation in performing our oversight function.

116th Congress