Politico

House Democrats blast DHS request to redirect millions to southern border surge


House Democrats are condemning a plan from the Department of Homeland Security to reshuffle more than $169 million in federal cash appropriated for this fiscal year — at least $21 million of which the agency now wants to use for surge operations at the southern border.

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), the chair of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, penned a letter to acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf on Thursday panning the proposal.

In the letter, which was obtained by POLITICO, she blasted the plan for coming at a time when the administration has essentially shuttered the southern border to asylum seekers during the pandemic and is sending paramilitary-style units to quell protests in Oregon and Washington state.

Roybal-Allard argued that the agency has failed to provide adequate justification for redirecting the money, and she threatened to restrict the agency’s ability to move around federal cash in the future. She also knocked DHS for targeting pots of funding that deal with key bipartisan priorities, including tens of millions of dollars for remote video surveillance, non-intrusive inspection equipment, construction and facilities improvements and more.

DHS wants to pull at least $19 million from a program that funds the use of body-worn and vehicle-mounted cameras, which Roybal-Allard slammed as the nation roils amid protests over police brutality.

“Body worn cameras help both to ensure that law enforcement officers are held accountable for any abuses of their authority and to protect officers against any false allegations of abuse,” she wrote. “This technology is, in fact, essential for helping to ensure public trust.“

The rejection from House Democrats doesn’t stop DHS from reshuffling the money, and Roybal-Allard‘s letter doesn’t fully detail how DHS plans to spend the redirected $169 million. DHS first submitted the plan to congressional appropriators on June 30.

Roybal-Allard notes that DHS wants to spend more than $21 million of the redirected funds on “proposed surge operations on the southern border in the Laredo and Rio Grande Valley Sectors.“ The California Democrat said DHS has “failed to provide quantifiable metrics that might justify this proposed operation,” despite repeated requests for information.

Similar DHS plans to reshuffle federal funding in recent years have drawn intense scrutiny. Last year, the agency told Congress it would divert $271 million from various accounts to beef up funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, including $155 million from federal disaster aid accounts. The agency wanted to spend $116 million of that redirected funding on more detention beds.

House Democrats have so far failed to curb the administration’s ability to reshuffle appropriated funds toward the president’s immigration priorities, adding provisions to annual spending bills that have no shot in the Republican-controlled Senate.

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