Ranking Member Cuellar Statement at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency Fiscal Year 2024 Budget Request Hearing

2023-04-18 09:55

Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee’s hearing on the fiscal year 2024 budget request for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency:

**As prepared for delivery**

Thank you, Chairman Joyce, and I would like to join you in welcoming Tae Johnson, the Acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or as we all know it more commonly “ICE”, who is no stranger to the subcommittee.  Welcome back, Sir.  We appreciate your years of public service and continued willingness to lead this multi-faceted organization.

As the Federal agency charged with the enforcement of violations of customs and immigration laws, the breadth of the investigatory and operational work of ICE casts a wide net including combatting transnational criminal organizations, illicit drug trafficking, human trafficking and smuggling networks, and violations of trade and intellectual property. I look forward to today’s discussion of the President’s Budget Request and how the proposal will better enable ICE to fulfill its critical national security mission. 

One thing to note is that while your budget justification materials don’t mention the word, “cartel”, as my colleagues have pointed out in the hearing before the Secretary, it does reference “Transnational Criminal Organizations”, which obviously includes cartels. In fact, your budget materials use the phrase "transnational criminal" over two dozen times, and the budget request includes investments in personnel and technology to crack down on cartels, including $305 million for Non-Intrusive Inspection Systems in CBP, with a primary focus on fentanyl detection at ports of entry and an increase of $40 million in ICE for tools to assist in combating human smuggling and illicit drug operations and their networks.

In particular, I am interested in how investments in Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) will increase the government-wide efforts to combat the opioid epidemic that is impacting American communities, large and small. As we see deaths from synthetic opioids, especially fentanyl, rise over 7-fold since 2015, combatting the transnational criminal organizations and disrupting the networks responsible for bringing these lethal drugs across our southern border and distributing them into our communities is critical to stemming the flow.

Further, while I appreciate the Administration’s attempt to balance its request with detention capacity for high-risk populations with alternatives to detention for low-risk populations, I am concerned with the Administration’s proposal for a border contingency fund that rests upon the premise that the federal government can immediately contract and execute over a billion dollars to provide the resources they need after a predefined level of encounters have been realized at the border. The reality is under this new structure the funding would not be available until well into the execution of the fiscal year. Specifically for ICE, if enacted, it would reduce its detention bed space by 9,000 and reduce the current number of ATD participants by 189,000. Reactive strategies that leave our workforce without the resources they need in real-time only ensures that we continue to play defense on the one-yard line. The men and women of ICE need our support to maintain a proactive posture in border security strategies.

There is no shortage of issues to focus on at ICE, such as addressing challenges with meaningful access to counsel; improving contracting at ICE, especially for its custody operations; or streamlining and automating processes – especially those that are integrated with the Department of Justice and the Executive Office for Immigration Review.  I’m sure we’ll hit on some of these issues today, and I look forward to your testimony.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I yield back.

118th Congress