As the Biden administration braces for the record number of migrants crossing the southern border daily to rise still more when Covid restrictions end this month, the Department of Homeland Security wants $2 billion from Congress to fight the surge, money Republicans may not be willing to approve.
Three senior DHS officials familiar with the planning say DHS has sent a request of roughly $2 billion to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, which will now have to decide to deny the request or ask Congress for more money. The money comes on top of the president’s budget requests as part of a fiscal year 2023 technical assistance package.
Republicans have been reluctant to approve additional funding for the Democratic administration’s border efforts, saying they want the border secured before more money is spent.
Covid-19 restrictions known as Title 42 have kept migrants from claiming asylum more than 2.4 million times since the policy began under former President Donald Trump in 2020. A federal judge has ruled that the policy must lift on Dec. 21; several Republican states have sued to keep it in place.
The number of undocumented crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border is already near record highs, at 7,500 to 8,000 a day.
“We are in the hole for millions, even without Title 42 lifting,” one of the DHS officials said.
The number of attempted crossings is projected to increase by as much as 2,500 a day when the Covid ban ends, DHS officials said, and it could reach 10,000.
And when the ban ends, instead of being sent back across the border, more migrants will have the chance to stay in the U.S. and claim asylum. The extra money is needed to process, shelter and transport them.
Without more space in border processing centers, the facilities could get overcrowded, just as they did in 2019, when migrants said they were being held in spaces too small to lie down to sleep.
They could also end up being released onto the street in border cities or bused by Republican governors to cities inside the U.S.
The Biden administration appealed the federal court ruling that lifted Title 42 on Wednesday, saying the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was correct in implementing it. But the administration did not ask the judge to keep Title 42 in place.
A senior DHS official told NBC News it could be the perfect time to lift Title 42, because southern border migration is typically at its lowest around the holidays. In addition, Republicans who campaigned on platforms of tighter border security have wrapped their midterm campaigns, and the 2024 presidential election is nearly two years away, so chaos at the border is less likely to hurt Biden and Democrats at the polls than it would if Title 42 lifted closer to an election, the official said.
The Biden administration has long planned for the lifting of Title 42 by streamlining the asylum process, allowing Border Patrol officers to conduct interviews and quickly deporting migrants. But it has warned that improving the process could take time and funding, claiming “it won’t be achieved overnight.”
DHS did not respond to a request for comment.