Roybal-Allard statement at full committee markup of FY 2019 Homeland Security appropriations bill
Mr. Chairman, this is your final full committee mark-up before you move on to what I hope will be a fulfilling and happy future for you and your family.
As you know, in spite of being from different political parties we have much in common. We both come from a political family and our fathers not only served in Congress, they served at the same time. You leave this body with a legacy of service to your country, your state and your constituents that honor your father and your family’s long history of public service. You truly will be missed.
On a personal note, I sincerely thank you for your friendship and the courtesies you have extended to me throughout the years. I wish you the very best of everything.
If I may I also want to express my appreciation to Chairman Carter for his years of service as subcommittee chairman. Judge, we could not come from two more different districts but I think we still managed to work quite well together to find common ground where we could and to respectfully disagree when we could not. We have also formed a friendship which I know will continue.
Chairman Yoder, allow me to formally welcome you to the Homeland Security Subcommittee – you have definitely proven to be a quick study and a steady hand. I believe that you and I are off to a good start in building that same kind of constructive working relationship. The process over the last few months in producing the bill has been a good one, consistent with the best traditions of this subcommittee.
Unfortunately, there are significant parts of the bill where we are not in agreement which prevent me from being able to support the bill in its current form.
From a taxpayer perspective, the most prominent area of concern is the $4.9 billion in the bill for new border fencing. That’s an increase of $3.3 billion – which is more than 200 percent – above the requested amount. There is no good evidence that the benefits of this infrastructure come close to justifying the expense, which ranges between $25 and $32 million per mile. This cost doesn’t even take into account future year maintenance.
One reason given to justify this exorbitant cost is that the Border fencing is needed to stop the flow of dangerous, illegal drugs, including opioids that are plaguing our communities and burdening our healthcare system. The fact is the vast majority of hard drugs come across our border at the ports of entry, not between the ports where fencing would be constructed. I am pleased the chairman’s mark does make smart investments in port of entry inspection technology. But we could do so much more if we didn’t waste money on unnecessary border fencing.
There are many other more urgent priorities – in this and other bills – we should be using our funding to support.
At the top of the list is investing at a minimum $750 million in FY19 for a heavy polar icebreaker for the Coast Guard. This funding was requested by the Administration because the United States is at an increasing disadvantage in the Arctic with the stronger presence of the Russian fleet, and with China building more of its own icebreakers.
We can no longer afford to delay yet the requested icebreaker is not funded in this bill. I will be offering an amendment to provide this much needed funding during our markup today.
This bill would also increase the average daily population of immigrants in ICE detention from the current 40,520 to 44,000, and support the hiring of more than 300 ICE enforcement and removal officers. While below the requested 52,000 detention beds and 1,700, enforcement and removal officers, the bill would nevertheless support the Administration’s efforts to vastly expand immigration enforcement activities in the interior of the United States.
Those ill-advised efforts detract from the need to focus on truly dangerous criminals and those who will do our country harm. They instill panic and confusion in communities across the country including my district, the 40th congressional district of California. Also, they are increasingly upending the lives of individuals and families who have lived in this country for years or decades and are contributing members of our communities.
Furthermore, ICE has refused to live within its means. During the past few years it has routinely exceeded the rate of operations, and the number of detention beds funded by Congress. This has required the Department to transfer funds from other important components to make ICE whole.
Instead of rewarding ICE with a higher funding level, which it is likely to again exceed, we should be putting tighter controls on the agency’s ability to ignore the intent of Congress.
Mr. Chairman, there have been bipartisan agreements on ICE funding in the last few appropriations cycles. If we hope to achieve a similar agreement for FY19, the bill needs to include guarantees that ICE will adhere to the direction we give the agency.
The unnecessary CBP infrastructure funding and the ICE enforcement and removal funding, including the detention beds are what primarily preclude Democrats from supporting the bill.
It is unfortunate, because we are in agreement on much of the rest of the bill, which makes a number of smart, forward thinking investments.
For instance, the Chairman has included CBP funding for 371 more custom officers; funding to hire specialized personnel to provide medical and mental health screening and referral services for unaccompanied children; and he has significantly expanded the use of non-intrusive inspection technology at the land ports of entry.
For ICE, the bill provides an increase for child exploitation investigation programs and new resources for the HSI Victim Assistance Program, which coordinates services for trafficking and forced labor victims who help ICE with criminal investigations.
Elsewhere in the bill, there are enhancements for the child care subsidy for Coast Guard personnel; significant additional investments above the request in cyber security, with a particular focus on election systems security; and level or increased funding for FEMA preparedness grant programs.
These and other increases in the bill are all good investments, but there are others we could be making if the bill were not saddled with a nearly $5 billion price-tag for border infrastructure and unwarranted ICE increases.
For instance, I would like to see an even stronger investment in new customs officers; an increase above last year for the Science and Technology Directorate; and a restoration of TSA’s Law Enforcement Officer Reimbursement Program and Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response teams.
Hopefully we can address some of these needs in today’s markup or further along in this year’s process.
I do commend the Chairman on the many constructive reporting and oversight directives in the report. The Chairman and his staff did their best to address the concerns of all the members of this Committee, and more broadly of the House.
For instance, there are significant requirements in the report related to ICE detention standards and inspections, the treatment of families in DHS custody, and the processing of asylum seekers.
The family separation fiasco of the last several weeks is testament to the need for careful oversight of the Department’s activities. The Administration’s zeal to aggressively enforce immigration law can never be an excuse to ignore the fundamental civil rights of individuals, including the right to keep one’s family intact. Nor can it be an excuse for the inhumane treatment of immigrants especially the abuse of immigrant children.
Mr. Chairman, in closing, I again express my appreciation for your forthrightness and willingness to work with the minority. The large, controversial issues always seem to overshadow the good, bipartisan work we do together to provide oversight of the Department’s activities and to ensure that its more than 240,000 personnel have the resources they need to successfully carry out the Department’s important missions.
That work would not get done without the hard work of staff, so I want to be sure to thank them – both majority and minority staff. They work together as a team in support of the Committee, the House, the Department, and the American people.
Mr. Chairman, I look forward to continuing our work together so that by the end of this year’s appropriations process, we can produce a final bill that both sides can fully support.