The $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill that will fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year was approved with bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress and then signed by President Joe Biden. With a war raging in Europe and inflation raging at home, the American public can take some reassurance in the fact that Democrats and Republicans managed to approve the spending package without even the threat of a government shutdown.
The massive 2,741-page bill not only allocates money to every arm and agency of the federal government, but it also serves as a guide to the policies, problems and programs members of Congress believe are important to their constituents. Fourteen months into the Biden administration, and eight months before the midterm elections, the bill’s allocation of funds for border and immigration enforcement represent the first real acknowledgement by Democrats that the nation is dealing with a crisis, and that their party is facing a political one.
After insisting that record numbers of illegal aliens pouring across our border was a “situation” that would soon blow over (like inflation), the bill that originated in the House provides billions in funding for border security, detention space, and other forms of enforcement. At the same time, Democratic leadership actually scrapped radical policy riders that were in an initial funding bill last summer, including cuts in detention space, enforcement limitations and a pool of money for illegal aliens to be defended in court.
This is encouraging, if for no other reason than it puts members of Congress on record as acknowledging that what we are facing is more than a “situation” and that Vice President Harris’ efforts to address the root causes of migration are not going to correct it anytime soon (and perhaps, never).
But there’s always a catch. In the case of the omnibus’ funding of border and immigration enforcement, it’s a big one. There is nothing in the bill that compels the president and his administration to spend the money for the purposes for which Congress intended. And there is every reason to expect that the Biden administration will either not spend it or find creative ways to use it to fund their open borders and anti-enforcement priorities.
On his first day in office, Biden halted construction of the border wall and remains adamant that no additional border barriers will be built on his watch. Lawsuits seeking to compel him to use the $1.9 billion allocated in the omnibus to resume construction could take years to play out in the courts, rendering even a favorable decision moot.
The president also canceled the effective Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program last year, and even though the courts have ruled that he must reinstate it, his administration is defying that order, returning fewer than seven migrants a month to Mexico. In the meantime, his Departments of Justice and Homeland Security remain committed to terminating the program in a way that will satisfy the courts.
The additional $400 million the omnibus provides ICE to remove illegal aliens from the interior of the country will likely amount to nothing more than an empty gesture. In FY 2021, ICE removed a record low 59,011 illegal aliens from the country, and half that total occurred during the final months of the Trump administration. And, under DHS guidelines issued last fall, all but the most violent criminals and terrorists are off-limits to ICE enforcement, and there are severe restrictions on where ICE can pursue them.
Even worse, the new piles of cash that DHS has no intention of using for immigration enforcement can be repurposed to advance the president’s decidedly anti-enforcement policies. In the hands of the current administration, money for border security can be used to process migrants more quickly and relocate them throughout the country under the pretense that they will show up for hearings and possibly be removed sometime in the (distant) future. Money for migrant detention will likely go to fund “alternatives to detention,” programs favored by open borders advocates because they allow migrants to easily disappear.
Taxpayers can expect little accountability for how the border and immigration enforcement provisions of the omnibus are spent, or not spent, while the Democrats control both houses of Congress. But small victories are still victories. Members of Congress acknowledged the border and immigration crises when they approved the bill, as did Biden when he signed it. With an election coming up, the American public will expect results.
Ira Mehlman is media director at the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in Washington D.C.