Democrats Look to Redirect Homeland Security Hiring After Trump Era
Lawmakers advance funding measure that would slash the number of law enforcement officers at the department.
House Democrats advanced their measure to fund the Homeland Security Department on Tuesday, moving a bill that would reorient workforce priorities.
Unlike the Trump administration, President Biden and congressional Democrats are not looking to boost staffing levels at immigration enforcement agencies. Democrats said DHS should seek to reduce the number of law enforcement jobs at Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, where Trump had sought to add thousands of officers and agents. Instead, the fiscal 2022 DHS spending bill—approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday—would augment the rolls at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Secret Service and other components.
The bill, which advanced along party lines, would instruct DHS to examine the feasibility of reclassifying some law enforcement positions related to immigration. The committee directed DHS to create an entity to examine whether any functions can be accomplished by non-law enforcement personnel to achieve a "more efficient and effective use of resources." The review would need to be completed in four months.
“The committee recommends that DHS decrease its reliance on [law enforcement officers] for functions where the unique training, expertise and access to firearms available to [law enforcement officers] is not required, such decreasing reliance on [officers] for processing of recent border crossers into DHS systems,” the committee said in its report on the bill.
The lawmakers generally followed the White House’s lead—as DHS was one of only two major departments that did not receive an overall funding boost in Biden’s budget request—but broke from it on some provisions. The committee said it supported the administration’s request for $345 million to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to hire 1,300 employees and boost overtime, but found the objective unrealistic. USCIS cannot accomplish all that hiring in one year, the Democrats said, and therefore lawmakers only allocated $89 million. House appropriators used the rest of the money for asylum officer hiring, which the White House did not request, to address “the significant backlog in asylum processing.”
Further demonstrating the break from Trump-era policies, the measure included funding for more than 300 refugee officers. After significant pushback for dragging his feet on a campaign promise, Biden in May raised the refugee cap from Trump’s record low of 15,000 to 62,500 for 2021. He said he plans to further increase it to 125,000 in fiscal 2022.
The lawmakers said they would fund some hiring simply because they trust the Biden administration more than its predecessor. Noting a shift at ICE toward a more “humane use of prosecutorial discretion”—which the agency gave to its employees last month—Democratic appropriators approved $15 million for the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor. The funds will allow ICE to hire more attorneys to help it address the millions of pending immigration cases.
FEMA has requested funding to hire thousands of new employees to alleviate strains on its beleaguered workforce and lawmakers said they recognize "the difficulties that FEMA faces in maintaining a workforce that is ready to deploy before, during and after disasters." They requested a briefing on FEMA's plans for each category of its workers, but said the bill would ultimately expand FEMA's disaster response workforce. The measure also provided more funding for Secret Service agents and uniformed officers. The agency is seeking to boost its workforce by about 25% by 2026.
While the Trump administration consistently pushed for more CBP and ICE personnel, Democrats in Congress were largely successful in blocking funding for those efforts. In the meantime, the administration struggled to recruit and retain a sufficient number of employees to meet its authorized workforce floor.
The House bill will now go to the floor, but the final measure will have to be reconciled with the language agreed to in the Senate.