President Obama’s request for nearly $4 billion in emergency funding for what the White House insists is “a proactive” effort to confront the unprecedented wave after wave of unaccompanied children and “Other Than Mexicans” (OTMs) surging across the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) is in stark contrast with the dramatic, across the board cuts he requested in the budgets of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other Department of Homeland Security (DHS) components in his Fiscal Year 2015 DHS budget sent to Congress in March.
The budget was drafted not only at a time when the crisis on the border had been predicted by US Border Patrol years earlier, but also as the numbers of OTMs entering the US through the RGV had already began to escalate, officials told Homeland Security Today on background.
In further contrast to the President’s request for $4 billion to address the border crisis, his FY 2015 DHS budget didn’t explicitly request any resources to address the nearly historic increase of unaccompanied alien children (UACs) transiting the Southwest border which, according to both DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services (HSS), was already up ten-fold since 2011 and was predicted to possibly exceed more than 90,000 this fiscal year and more than 145,000 in FY 2015.
The White House’s supplemental request for $4 billion to address the border crisis “is so much smoke and mirrors,” legislators, law enforcement and other federal officials said. The bulk of the money is earmarked for resettlement rather than for removal and border enforcement. Out of the White House’s $3.7 billion request, $1.8 billion, or about 49 percent of the entire supplemental request, would go to HHS for resettlement of illegal minors and entire family units, including adult men and women. Funds would be provided "for acquisition, construction, improvement, repair, operation and maintenance of real property and facilities." According to a leaked ICE Office of Intelligence document, 47 percent of the adults subject to expedited removal would be relocated and resettled.
The administration’s supplemental request also includes a "general provision" by which it would be allowed to move around as much as 30 percent of the funding as they choose. The Department of Justice (DOJ) would be given $15 million to hire attorneys to defend unaccompanied alien children against deportation in removal proceedings before an immigration judge and $1.1 million would be given to DOJ for "immigration litigation attorneys.”
“While administration leaders publicly claim they are working to effectively stem the tide of arrivals and ensure their speedy removal, everything about the budget request suggests this is more about resettlement, prolonging removal proceedings into infinity, and then quietly letting the tens of thousands of most recent arrivals recede into the woodwork of society to join the more than 840,000 aliens whoare already fugitives from immigration courts around the country,” said Center for Immigration Studies fellow Dan Cadman, author of the report, “Analysis of the Supplemental Budget Request.”
"The White House and its allies in Congress accuse some members of the House of ‘wanting it both ways’ for not immediately acquiescing to the terms of the emergency supplemental, but an examination of the details in the supplemental shows clearly that it is the administration which wants it both ways,” Cadman stated, adding, “The supplemental request represents an illusion of progress, while taking no concrete steps either to remove the recent arrivals or to effectively dissuade future arrivals."
Meanwhile, Obama declared that “the challenge is, is Congress refuses to put the resources in place” to address this crisis.
With crisis underway, President sent Congress slashed DHS budget
The reality is, in glaring contrast to Obama’s declaration that Congress is refusing to give him the nearly $4 billion he wants to address the Southwest border crisis, his DHS budget request for FY 2015 included the following reductions as compared to fiscal year 2014 enacted levels:
- A reduction of -3,461 detention beds, or a -10.2 percent reduction to ICE’s detention capacity;
- A -2 percent reduction in ICE’s investigative capacity;
- A nearly -18 percent reduction of ICE’s transportation capacity; and
- A reduction of -12 percent to CBP Air and Marine Operations, including a more than -30 percent reduction in flight hours.
Beyond these proposed resource reductions, further analysis of Obama’s FY 2015 DHS budget request revealed the following performance impacts, according to the House Committee on Appropriations’ FY 2015 DHS budget report:
- An inability of ICE to sustain detention capacity, which also prevents ICE from fully complying with statutory mandates to detain criminal immigration law violators and detaining all other aliens in removal proceedings who are likely to abscond or pose threats to community safety;
- A significant deterioration of ICE’s capacity to investigate severe transnational crimes, such as illegal weapons exportation, narcotics trafficking, human trafficking and smuggling, intellectual property theft and cyber crime, including child exploitation; and no investigative or financial support to long-standing, authorized programs that address missing and exploited children;
- A substantial reduction in operating capabilities of CBP aviation assets along our borders and coastlines;
- The lowest level of drug interdiction effectiveness in the past five years; and
- The inability of the Coast Guard to fulfill its patrol boat mission requirements.
House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) said upon reviewing the President’s 2015 DHS budget request that, “I must say, I was disappointed that the President’s FY 2015 request proposes new entitlement spending while recommending nearly a billion dollars in cuts to the Department of Homeland Security … the realities of growing threats are not reflected in the proposed budget.”
“While domestic programs are important, now is not the time to create new entitlements at the expense of national security,” McCaul said. “The President is calling for $56 billion to fund non essential programs, like climate research – while at the same time, reducing funding for United States Coast Guard and border security missions, and cutting DHS Science & Technology explosives detection research by $15.5 million. Last year, after the Boston Marathon Bombing, Congress undidthe multi-year funding decline for the Office of Bombing Prevention, by providing $13.5 million. This year’s budget request, unfortunately, drops that amount back down to $11.5 million, nearly as low as before the tragic attack.”
“From our skies to our seas,” McCaul said, DHS “cannot sustain its mission under this proposed budget. The proposal reduces the Coast Guard’s acquisition budget by $300 million just as old assets that should be replaced are retired, and proposes a $32 million cut in funding to CBP Air and Marine flight hours along the border — reducing our situational awareness of what is coming across. At the same time, the administration again is aiming to reduce the number of congressionally mandated ICE detention beds by 3,500. This is all while the budget gives over $320 million to [the] General Services Administration and DHS to construct access roads and a building to house the [DHS] secretary’s office at the St. Elizabeth’s Headquarters — a construction project that is now slated to be finished in 2026. This means the administration, in my judgment, is putting bureaucracy over the safety and security of our own shores. The Navy has already stopped counter drug missions in South America post-sequestration; and now we’re retiring a significant part of our Coast Guard fleet, without replacements on deck.”
McCaul said “the majority of the cuts to the department fall under its most critical mission areas, and the current budget request is strikingly similar to those we’ve seen under your predecessor. Ultimately beyond the cuts, today we must discuss the lack of new strategic planning that the budget proposal reflects.”
Yet, now, as the crisis on the border is spinning out of control, the White House is declaring that the nearly $4 billion it’s requesting from Congress to “proactively” address the crisis on the Southwest border will help increase the detention, care and transportation of unaccompanied children and speed up the removal of adults with children by increasing the capacity of immigration courts and increasing prosecution of smuggling networks – all of which the President proposed to slash in his DHS budget. Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley Sector said DHS has sent scarce transportation assets from an already resource impaired Coast Guard – which the President’s FY 2015 DHS budget would also substantially cut– to help transport the children pouring over the border and requiring a budget strained ICE to lease additional charter aircraft.
Obama’s FY 2015 DHS budget request also includes:
- A reduction of approximately -483 Coast Guard military billets; multiple, accelerated decommissionings of operational assets; and an estimated -27 percent reduction in Coast Guard recapitalization programs;
- A reduction of -$294.5 million, or -13.2 percent, to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) first responder grants; and
- An abrupt end to DHS’s support for investigations into missing and exploited children.
Now, however, the President wants $29 million for increased CBP support of the Border Security Task Forces, particularly along the Southwest Border, and $39 million for an additional 16,526 Office of Air and Marine flight hours, which he’d wanted to reduce by 30 percent in his FY 2015 DHS budget request, and 16 additional crew members for CBP’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), which he also wanted cut in his DHS budget — so much that there would be a substantial reduction in the operating capabilities of CBP aviation assets, including UASs, along the nation’s borders and coastlines.
The President also now wants $109 million to support increased efforts to detect, disrupt and dismantle human smuggling efforts across US borders. Yet, his FY 2015 DHS budget would have virtually disassembled these activities, especially those conducted by ICE Homeland Security Investigations, which he wants a 2 percent reduction in its investigative capacity. His supplemental $4 billion request also includes $46 million for 179 additional members of the Border Security Task Forces, particularly along the Southwest Border, and $38 million for additional domestic and international investigations and intelligence support, which he also wanted significantly cut back in his proposed FY 2015 DHS budget.
Of the $1.104 billion the President is now asking from Congress for ICE, $995 million is for operational costs to include the detention, alternatives to detention, prosecution and removal of family groups, as well as transportation costs …” His FY 2015 DHS budget not only called for a nearly18 percent reduction in ICE’s transportation capacity, but also a reduction of 3,461 detention beds or a 10.2 percent reduction to ICE’s detention capacity, as well as an inability to perform adequate enforcement.
As the House Appropriations Committee’s DHS budget report stated, “In sum, the fiscal year 2015 budget request for DHS proposes to not only reduce the current resources of the department’s most critical frontline components, but also to substantially and perhaps irreparably diminish the long-term security and enforcement capabilities of our nation. For the fourth consecutive year, the committee categorically rejects yet another flawed DHS budget request from the current administration.”
Restoring funding DHS requires
The committee’s budget report said its “fiscal year 2015 appropriations bill for DHS reallocates scarce funding towards our nation’s security priorities and rectifies the President’s ill-considered and imbalanced budget proposal for [DHS]. The funding recommendations and oversight requirements contained in this bill and report are intended to prioritize operations and frontline staffing to rectify the administration’s repeated, proposed reductions to border security, border enforcement, immigration enforcement, maritime security, state and local preparedness and counternarcotics capabilities.”
The House DHS appropriations bill “is constructed upon four principles:”
- Providing sufficient resources to support essential mission requirements;
- Compelling fiscal discipline and efficiency;
- Administering greater oversight and accountability; and
- Instilling long overdue reforms.
“In particular, the bill includes targeted increases directly related to current threats, including recent domestic and international security events,” the committee’s report said. “These increases above the request include [more] than +$471 million enhancement to ICE resources to overcome proposed, but unjustified, reductions and enable the agency to fulfill its mission of enforcing our nation’s customs and immigration laws, including increases above the request to the following:”
- Fugitive operations, visa overstay investigations and enforcement, detention capacity, investigative operations, 287(g) training, legal proceedings and necessary transportation capabilities related to detainees and unaccompanied alien children;
- A +$50 million increase in border security technology for immediate, substantial enhancement of situational awareness along the Southwest border, primarily targeted toward areas associated with the greatest threats and highest number of border incursions;
- A +$79.2 million increase to CBP’s Office of Air and Marine to provide immediate enhancements in support of the Border Patrol’s border security and interdiction operations; and restoration of $294.5 million to FEMA’s first responder grants to sustain the amount provided in fiscal year 2014; and
- A more than +$297.5 million increase to US Coast Guard operations and recapitalization resources to enable the agency to adequately perform its statutory missions and substantially address unfunded priorities. This increase above the request is primarily targeted at restoring the Coast Guard’s counternarcotics and interdiction capabilities.
In addition, the bill further supports essential security activities by:
- Highlighting the critical, cross-cutting functionality of the Air and Marine Operations Center (AMOC);
- Restoring the proposed reductions to the Secret Service’s investigative operations, including the investigations of cyber crimes and support for the prevention of child exploitation;
- Adding $5.0 million for additional Transportation Security Administration (TSA) canine enforcement teams, fully funding the training pipeline for canine teams through fiscal year 2016;
- Fully funding all viable cybersecurity activities, including federal network security and deployment;
- Fully funding DHS’s efforts to consolidate and categorize disparate classified and unclassified data to maximize information sharing while ensuring appropriate access controls and privacy protections;
- Continuing to fully fund E-Verify; and
- Fully funding the completion of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF).
Overall, the House Appropriations Committee’s FY 2015 DHS budget “recommends $39,220,000,000 in discretionary funding for DHS for fiscal year 2015, +$887,756,000, or +2.32 percent, above the amount requested by the administration and -$50,000,000, or -0.13 percent, below fiscal year 2014 enacted levels (when excluding requested, but unauthorized increases to fee collections).”
“Funding for the Coast Guard’s support of the Global War on Terrorism/Overseas Contingency Operations is not included in the bill nor is it addressed in any way by the committee in this report since the President has yet to submit a request for such funds,” the budget report explained.
“The committee’s intention with this bill, in contrast to the wholly inadequate budget request [submitted by President Obama], is to prioritize funding for frontline security operations,” the committee’s budget report stated.“Therefore, the committee designed the bill to enable DHS to rapidly and aggressively address current threats; support the rapid, but responsible acquisition of much needed operational capabilities; address long-standing federal computer network security vulnerabilities; compel the department to set clear and well-reasoned priorities that align to stated mission requirements; and require the department to practice sound financial and program management that aligns resources to missions and results in improved security.”
“The committee remains deeply committed to helping [DHS] confront long-standing and emergent homeland security threats, and sincerely appreciates the hard work and dedication of the thousands of agents, officers, Coast Guard military personnel, watchstanders and mission support staff who make it their business every day to enforce federal laws, work to keep the nation safe from terrorist threats, and improve the nation’s resiliency to disasters,” the report concluded.
The writing was on the wall
For some time before the President submitted his DHS budget, statistics from DHS had hinted that something huge was about to happen, Border Patrol officials said on background. According to Border Patrol, Southwest border apprehensions year to date (YTD) through May (323,675) increased 15 percent from FY 2013, while apprehensions of OTMs along the Southwest border YTD through May (162,757) accounted for 50 percent of total Southwest border apprehensions, the highest number of which, 96,829, were caught in the RGV. Comparatively, from October 1 through September 30, 2013, there were 414,397 total Southwest border apprehensions.
For the first time, illegal immigrant apprehensions by Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley outnumbered those in Arizona. RGV apprehensions YTD through May (163,542) escalated 74 percent from FY 2013 — the highest number since 1999. OTM apprehensions in the RGV YTD through May (122,070) surged to 75 percent of total RGV apprehensions.
Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector has nine stations (Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Falfurrias, Fort Brown, Harlingen, Kingsville, McAllen, Rio Grande City and Weslaco), two checkpoints, air and marine operations and an intelligence office. Sector agents patrol over 320 river miles, 250 coastal miles and 19 counties equating to more than 17,000 square miles. It’s a land mass that Border Patrol said includes land that’s just as inhospitable as that in the Tucson Sector – but the shortest route from Central America.
Despite the unprecedented surge of illegals crossing the border and its overwhelming the resources of CBP, Border Patrol, ICE and immigration courts to effectively and efficiently manage this mass migration, a CBP official told Homeland Security Today on background last week that “This is not considered a mass migration situation.” A position senior Border Patrol agents said on background they disagree with.
Although CBP’s website says that, “Beginning last year and specifically in the last few months, CBP has seen an overall increase in the apprehension of Unaccompanied Alien Children from Central America at the Southwest Border, specifically in the Rio Grande Valley,” the rise in apprehensions in the RGV, especially OTMs, wasn’t a surprise to Border Patrol or CBP intelligence analysts, officials said. The writing had been on the wall for years. A June 23 Congressional Research Service report stated that, “Over the past three years, there has been an increase in Border Patrol apprehensions of third-country nationals. While the number of those apprehended from Mexico decreased slightly (from 286,154 to 267,734), the number of apprehended third-country nationals increased almost three-fold from 54,098 to 153,055.”
Furthermore, in 2011, Border Patrol predicted the crisis that’s now occurring, officials said. Homeland Security Today also first reported in December 2011 that Mexican organized crime cartels’ smuggling of drugs and the illegal entry of “Special Interest Aliens” (SIAs) – a class of OTMs who may pose a threat to national security — into the RGV had risen so quickly that Border Patrol and law enforcement officials had begun to refer to the "Valley" as “the new Arizona.”
The “Valley" in 2011 was already becoming “ground zero” on the Southwest border for narco-trafficking and the illegal smuggling of OTMs, according to numerous authorities interviewed by Homeland Security Today.
Federal and state officials familiar with the escalating problem inthe RGV confirmed that by late 2011, the region had become the new "hot spot" for Mexico’s transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) and OTMs. They acknowledged that the Valley was becoming the next big narco-trafficking “problem area” for Border Patrol and CBP’s Field Operations. One particular area of the Valley was dubbed “smugglers alley” by Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) pilots.
The RGV by this time had become so “hot,” in fact, that Border Patrol agents working the Tucson Sector – which had been the southern border’s busiest narco-smuggling corridor – were redeployed to the Rio Grande Valley Sector to help deal with the rising numbers of OTMs crossing into the US there.
While Border Patrol officials did not officially confirm that there’d been a redeployment of agents from the Tucson Sector to the RGV, one official acknowledged that “drug seizures and illegal apprehensions are up in the sector so much that they anticipate increased funding and manpower.”
According to a Texas law enforcement official, the RGV had always been the “hottest” trafficking plaza in the Longhorn state – and “quite possibly” the entire southern border. He was echoed by Texas DPS officials who’d repeatedly stated publicly that the Rio Grande Valley is the busiest smuggling corridor in the state.
In the summer of 2011, DPS assigned 15 helicopters – a large chunk of its border aviation assets – to border areas from El Paso to the Rio Grande Valley.
A top Border Patrol Agent for the Rio Grande Valley Sector at the time admitted publicly that the Valley is one of the busiest smuggling corridors in Texas. And so, too, did the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which said narco-trafficking in the Valley had doubled over the previous two years.
In FY 2013, there were nearly 94,000 apprehensions in the RGV, marking the first time this Border Patrol sector accounted for the highest number of apprehensions of illegals in any Southwest border sector since FY 1965, when there were 8,057 illegals apprehended. In FY 2012, there were 97,762 apprehensions in the RGV, just below the 120,000 who were apprehended by Border Patrol in the Tucson Sector. In FY 2013, 89,822 were apprehended in the Tucson Sector.
While Border Patrol apprehensions of Mexicans in FY 2013 remained largely unchanged from FY 2012, apprehensions of OTMs, predominately individuals from Central America, increased by 55 percent, which included SIAs from countries that support or harbor Islamist terrorists. There were 49,939 SIAs caught in the RGV in FY 2012, the highest number since FY 2007 and the most OTMs apprehended in any of Border Patrol’s Southwest border sectors. In fact, OTMs arrested in the RGV accounted for more than half of all OTMs apprehended along the Southern border in FY 2012, according to CBP data.
“Based on the numbers we’re seeing, [the] RGV appears to be the preferred route for Other Than Mexicans,” a Texas law enforcement official told Homeland Security Today at the time.
“[The RGV is] were half of the SIAs have crossed,” another law enforcement official familiar with the matter said. “[And] if there’s new activity in this region, it would mean that there’s a lot more [SIA smuggling] activity going on.”
And there is, Homeland Security Today has learned, and will shortly be exclusively reporting on.