Republicans on the House Homeland Security Committee will unveil a border security package on Monday that would increase Border Patrol hiring while resuming border wall construction and providing for additional technology in response to the ongoing crisis at the southern border.
The Border Reinforcement Act of 2023 will focus on border security, funding and staffing. Areas like asylum reform and detention requirements are being tackled in separate legislation approved in the Judiciary Committee last week. The Homeland Security Committee bill serves as a companion to that legislation.
A committee aide speaking to reporters ahead of the bill’s introduction said it is intended to fulfill House Republicans’ commitment to America to secure the country and protect the American people.
The bill would resume border wall construction, which was mostly halted at the start of the Biden administration after a years-long construction effort under the Trump administration. The bill requires the Department of Homeland Security to use already appropriated and expired funds to resume construction. It will also increase Operation Stonegarden grants for law enforcement along the land and maritime borders and provide for more technology upgrades at the border — including two-way radios and license plate readers.
March 15, 2023: Rep. Mark Green questions Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz. (Screenshot)
Separately, it would mandate that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) increase its staffing to at least 22,000 Border Patrol agents from the approximately 19,000 currently serving –and will require that they not serve as processing coordinators. The Biden administration has increased the number of agents at the border, but many agents have been moved to processing migrants into the U.S. interior.
The bill also seeks to deal with a struggle to retain Border Patrol agents, who have seen a drop in morale under a crushing crisis at the border, by granting retention bonuses for agents. It also requires the administration to release information on data including the number of “gotaways” at the border each month.
Another part of the bill restricts the use of the controversial CBP One app — which the Biden administration has expanded to allow migrants to make appointments at ports of entry. The Biden administration has said the app allows for an orderly process at the border and encourages migrants to apply for asylum legally at ports of entry rather than entering illegally. However, Republicans have said it has become a de facto “concierge service” for illegal immigrants.
The legislation would reduce the usage back to its original focus during the Trump administration, when it was used for commercial purposes, ending the ability for migrants to schedule appointments at ports of entry.
Committee aides said the bill has been developed in close coordination with the Judiciary Committee, and they believe it has support across the Republican conference — with high confidence that it will pass the chamber.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testifies during an April 2022 House hearing. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Multiple hawkish immigration groups had urged Republican leadership to pursue the sort of broad border and asylum legislation now being introduced by the committees and have come out in support of both bills. Lora Ries, director of the Border Security and Immigration Center at The Heritage Foundation, on Thursday praised the Judiciary Committee bill as “a bold response” to the migrant crisis — highlighting its tackling of asylum fraud, moves to end child smuggling and mandates E-Verify.
“When the policies advanced by the House Judiciary Committee are fully combined with the House Homeland Security Committee package slated for consideration next week into a single flagship bill ready for swift passage, the House will have shown the American people a forceful response to the Biden Administration’s border crisis,” she said.
The committee has held a number of high-profile hearings related to the border, with witnesses that have included Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz — who said he disagreed with the move to end border wall construction and said that the agency does not have operational control of the border.
It recently marked 100 days of what it said was “well overdue” oversight of the administration — including 230 briefings and meetings, 23 oversight and document requests letters, over a dozen site visits and seven hearings.
The bill’s introduction comes ahead of the end of Title 42 next month on May 11. Officials have feared that the ending of the order — which has allowed border officials to expel hundreds of thousands of migrants at the border due to the COVID-19 pandemic — will result in a fresh surge of migrants over the spring and summer months.
Republicans in the House and Senate have called for House Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to be removed from his job — with tense hearings across multiple committees in recent weeks. The Biden administration has said that Congress should instead focus on fixing what it says is a “broken” immigration system.