Immigration Reform: 'You Shall Fill 34,000 Beds,' Lawmaker Tells DHS Secretary

  @LauraMatt on March 11 2014 7:58 PM
Jeh Johnson
Johnson is the new secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. DHS

Republicans on the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee are balking at President Barack Obama’s 2015 budget, which proposes cuts to areas they deem vital for protecting America.

Obama's $38.2 billion budget request to Congress for the Department of Homeland Security calls for a 10 percent reduction in the number of detention beds, cuts at the U.S Coast Guard and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and reduced flying hours for some aircraft.

Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, who chairs the subcommittee, said the budget comes off as “a blatant disregard for critical security and law enforcement functions and priorities that truly defy logic.”

“Either this administration does not see Homeland Security and law enforcement as important,” Carter said, “or it is trying to game Congress and hope we will bail out unjustified and truly harmful cuts to essential frontline operations.”

Carter said he knows an election-year budget proposal when he sees one. Should this proposal be enacted, it would lead to more drugs in the street, more illegal border crossings and mariners in distress, among other terrible scenarios, he said.

Carter’s disappointment in the budget was echoed by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., who called it “overtly partisan and political at its core.”

“The protection of our homeland is a responsibility of paramount importance,” Rogers said. “I fear this budget proposal undermines that duty with the same budget gimmicks, unauthorized legislative proposals and cuts to front-line security operations that we’ve sadly come to expect under this administration.”

But Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the targeted cuts would allow for the best use of limited resources.

“This budget submission reflects hard choices given our fiscally constrained environment in which we are operating, pursuant to the bipartisan budget act and the topline limit we face,” Johnson said.

In December, the president signed a bipartisan budget deal that set discretionary spending at $1.014 trillion for fiscal 2014. But Obama’s near $4 trillion budget, put forward last week, builds on the bipartisan deal and throws an additional $56 billion in spending into what he calls an “Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative.”

DHS is also asking for its immigration detention mandate of 34,000 beds per day to drop to 30,539. Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, took Johnson to task on the issue and asked what justification there is for DHS to refuse to obey the law and request a reduction.

Johnson said he believes the executive branch owes Congress its best effort to recommend what it thinks the budget priorities should be.

“It is your prerogative to agree with it or disagree with it,” he said. “With regard to that particular provision, we believe we owe you our candor and our best effort at what we believe is the appropriate level for detention beds given our current demands, and so that’s what you have from the administration.”

Culberson told Johnson that the law “is not optional. It is not discretionary. ... You shall fill 34,000 beds. Would you, if you could, please take that message back to the agency?”

Immigration reform advocates have criticized the detention bed mandate, saying the DHS tends to use the numbers as a mandate for its lockup activities. They say with such a wide net, more people get caught into the system who could benefit from cheaper alternative means.

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