Immigration Politics Bog Down Humanitarian Funds for Migrants

Debates over immigration policy cloud the prospect of new funding for nonprofits and local agencies that the federal government depends on to feed and house migrants.

Aid workers and frontier communities, backed by the White House and some lawmakers, are urging Congress to use a makeshift budget to prop up an account that compensates local agencies and organizations that care for Homeland Security cleared frontier workers.

The funds “are critical to this new reality that we have at the border, which is that people are coming, they need to be released, they need short-term help that isn’t incarceration,” said Yael Schacher, America and Europe director for refugees International.

The funding, offered through the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, is one of several potential add-ons lawmakers are considering as they negotiate a deal to keep the government going when fiscal 2023 begins next month . Democrats are leading the push for the humanitarian account, while Republicans appear divided. The text of the rolling resolution is expected to be published next week.

Caring for migrants has drawn more attention in recent weeks and months as Florida and Texas governors take some people to Washington, DC, New York, Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. The communities, as well as those on the southern border, are eligible for grants from the emergency food and shelter program.

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Cities facing migrant influx costs could receive federal aid

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Migrants from Central and South America wait after being dropped off near Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence in Washington September 15, 2022. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sent buses to take them from the southern border to Harris’ home.

“You’re going to have non-profit providers shutting down or shutting down some of their services at the border and in cities across the country if we don’t build in this anomaly,” Sen said. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said Tuesday, referring to the budget mechanism that would add the funding. Murphy directs DHS funds in the Senate.

At least one top Republican, Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) has advocated strengthening the program. Others have mocked the request, saying the scramble for resources is a product of border security policies they believe are far too lax.

The Biden administration should look at ways to prevent migration “instead of asking for more money to get more people to come,” Sen said. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), the top Republican who oversees the DHS budget, said Tuesday. “So yeah, I have a problem with that.”

US officials have recorded more than 2 million encounters with migrants at the US-Mexico border this fiscal year, a new high.

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“It’s our job”

NGOs helping migrants say they feel caught in the middle of a political showdown detached from reality.

“They’re hungry and they need shelter, and they’re here right now,” Brian Corbin, executive vice president of Catholic Charities USA, said of migrants. “It is our job as NGOs to respond to human need.”

The Emergency Food and Shelter Program, administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency of DHS, has existed for decades to help communities care for people affected by homelessness.

Congress passed legislation in 2019 (Public Law 116-26), signed by then-President Donald Trump, to add a $30 million humanitarian assistance account for migrants released from DHS to legally reside in the United States to live while their immigration cases are pending. The program’s humanitarian arm has since received funding from other legislation, including $150 million in the 2022 Budget Act.

About $85 million remained in the account in July, but mounting inquiries from cities dealing with unexpected migrant arrivals threatened to drain the funds, a group of House Democrats warned in a Sept. 9 letter. They asked the appropriators to add $50 million to the program in a stopgap funding bill.

Cornyn said he supports more money for humanitarian aid to migrants in general, although he said he is not involved in the ongoing talks on the proposal.

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“The federal government could not deal with this crisis without the help of NGOs,” he said. “They didn’t cause the problem and are trying to help.”

But funneling money for border needs is a point of frustration for many Republicans, who instead want President Joe Biden to return to many of his predecessor’s immigration policies: continuing construction of the border wall and forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their applications are reviewed and a more aggressive application of pandemic-related restrictions.

Border supplement circulated as a Democrat break on immigration

“It’s not the answer to our immigration problem, it’s not just more money,” Rob Portman (Ohio), top Republican on the Senate panel that oversees DHS, said of the emergency funding push.

For many frontier churches and service groups, the problem is the convention. Lawmakers have repeatedly failed to pass a sweeping immigration overhaul, making the situation at the border increasingly difficult, said Monica Weisberg-Stewart, chair of immigration and border security for the Texas Border Coalition, a network of local governments and business leaders.

“What are they recommending to do with the people who are sitting at the gates of these cities and counties?” she said. “It is inhumane not to offer the necessary help.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M Gilmer in Washington [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Robin Meszoly at [email protected]; Sarah Babbage at [email protected]

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