The Biden administration has sought $13.6 billion in its plan to hire nearly 6,000 employees at DHS and the Justice Department.

The Biden administration has sought $13.6 billion in its plan to hire nearly 6,000 employees at DHS and the Justice Department. bpperry/Getty Images

Biden, Democrats push for DHS hiring spree despite failed supplemental vote

Republicans block measure with aid to Ukraine and Israel, as well as billions of dollars for massive DHS hiring.

The Senate on Wednesday failed to advance a $111 billion package that included a hiring surge at the Homeland Security Department and other immigration-related agencies, with Republicans uniting against the measure—aimed primarily at assisting foreign allies—over the bill’s failure to more broadly address the immigration system. 

Senate Democrats put the measure forward to largely mirror a request from President Biden, who called for the robust resources for border staffing in conjunction with aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. The Biden administration has sought $13.6 billion in its plan to hire nearly 6,000 employees at DHS and the Justice Department, saying the resources are necessary to keep the Southwest border secure and restrict the flow of fentanyl into the county. The ask marked a significantly ramped up approach from the Biden administration, which previously pushed for smaller increases to its immigration and border security workforce.

After extended negotiations with a group of Republicans led by Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., aimed at devising bipartisan reforms to curb asylum and expedite the removal of unlawful migrants, Democrats opted to put forward their own legislation that would have provided similar DHS funding levels as Biden requested. 

Biden administration officials have defended the request as necessary to process the growing numbers of migrants arriving at the border, conceding the approach would fall short of the comprehensive approach to immigration reform they would prefer but address the immediate, acute problem of an overwhelmed workforce. After dropping over the summer, the number of encounters of migrants at the border have spiked to unprecedented levels in recent months. 

Biden on Wednesday said he was willing to accept policy changes at the border to ensure more resources for the agencies there. 

“I've asked for billions of dollars for more border agents, more immigration judges, more asylum officers,” Biden said at the White House. “Republicans have to decide if they want a political issue, or if they want a solution to the border.”

Lankford noted ahead of the vote the second highest request in Biden’s supplemental was for border security, signaling that everyone recognized DHS is dealing with a “problem” and a “crisis.” While he did not voice any opposition to the proposed hiring, he suggested Republicans would not approve any supplemental package without asylum and other policy changes. 

“People working at the border have no tools in their hands to be able to stop this issue,” Lankford said. 

Democrats on the Senate Appropriations bill said ahead of Wednesday’s failed vote their bill would provide “resources to meet operational needs at the southern border, humanely manage new encounters, reduce processing and adjudication backlogs, and support partner country efforts to improve integration and identify legal pathways for migrants in third countries.”

Under the request, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would gain 1,600 new asylum officers, Border Patrol would net 1,300 new agents, Customs and Border Protection would see 1,000 new officers and Immigration and Customs Enforcement would add 1,470 attorneys. The latter hiring would accompany 375 immigration judges within Justice’s Executive Office of Immigration Review and support staff for each of them.

In a hearing last month, at least some Republicans appeared open to accepting the dramatic staffing up at DHS and Justice, but questioned how realistic the proposals are given DHS’ previous failures to grow certain components. Republicans have proposed DHS boost pay and retention bonuses for Border Patrol personnel to boost its workforce. 

Even after the failed vote, some key lawmakers have said they will continue forward in negotiating a compromise. Democrats have expressed pessimism in recent days that they can strike a deal, however, saying Republicans are offering little wiggle room from their preferred positions. Biden said his team has engaged in negotiations with the Senate and said he is "willing to do significantly more," but Republicans must recognize they cannot "get everything they want without bipartisan compromise." He accused the party of walking away after he thought the two sides were “making some real progress.” 

Meanwhile in the House, Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has said Republicans would back a supplemental only if it includes the provisions of the Secure the Border Act (H.R. 2), a bill the chamber previously approved that would restrict access to asylum, add additional detention facilities, bring back family detention, increase penalties for those who violate immigration laws, limit parole programs and reinstitute wall construction.