Homeland Security officials are expected to ask the White House this week for a speedy infusion of funds as the agency struggles to detain undocumented immigrants with its remaining budget – a problem, it says, that has been exacerbated by an influx of Haitian immigrants entering along the U.S. border with Mexico.
“Across the southwest border, we’ve seen a recent uptick in the number of apprehensions,” a senior official with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told the Wall Street Journal.
The surge in Haitian migrants attempting to cross into the U.S. via its southern border can be traced back to the devastating earthquake that rocked the Caribbean nation back in 2010. In the aftermath of the tremblor, many Haitians left the country for Brazil and now many are making their way through South and Central America on their way to the U.S.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), since October 2015 more than 4,300 Haitians have entered the U.S., with 2,600 still stuck at the San Ysidro port of entry in Tijuana, Mexico. Another 3,500 are purportedly in route to the U.S.
DHS officials want a $136 million to pay for beds in detention centers and non-detention monitoring of illegal immigration, with much more expected to be asked for in 2017 as the number of people awaiting deportation continues to rise.
The U.S. government said last month that it would end a policy enacted after the 2010 earthquake of not seeking speedy deportations for undocumented Haitians. On Tuesday, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said he would again put a hold on Haitian deportations because of the recent destruction caused by Hurricane Matthew.
There is uncertainty about whether the devastation caused by the recent hurricane will lead more Haitians to flee the country to try and to enter the U.S.
The arrival of Haitian migrants at the U.S. border – around 700 a day, according to the conservative group Nationalist Front of Mexico – has added to an already busy year for border officials.
In March, an ICE official said the agency believed it would detain about 31,000 people, if not fewer, over the rest of the year. Instead, that number has sharply risen and ICE expects to have detained roughly 42,000 people by the end of October.
Adding to the budgetary issues is the backlog of cases before immigration courts that have kept many immigrants in detention centers and the non-detention monitoring of undocumented immigrants. That practice was billed as a cost-saving measure, but has faced cost overruns as the number of people subject to monitoring more than doubled in 2016, and is now at more than 60,000.
Despite ICE officials’ insistence that the budget issue gets resolved quickly, critics say that is unlikely to happen since lawmakers on Capitol Hill will be spending the next few weeks on the campaign trail before Election Day. That is why the agency has appealed to the White House in the hope that the Obama administration will approve the diversion of money from elsewhere in the federal budget to cover the funding gap and help cover the cost of new facilities where they can detain the influx of immigrants.
“We are growing our [detention] capacity," the senior ICE official told the Journal, "but there is going to be a cost associated with that.”