Susan J. Demas
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Friday released a budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year that would increase the number of immigration judges and allocate millions in funding to clear backlogs of hearings and asylum requests.
The administration is grappling with an influx of asylum seekers at the Southern border after inheriting a gutted immigration system from the Trump administration. Boosted funding for immigration programs, aid and reform in the budget request spans several agencies such as the Department of Human and Health Services, Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security.
President Joe Biden’s preliminary $1.5 trillion budget request to Congress seeks to spend $891 million on nearly 1.3 million outstanding immigration court cases, which also adds up to 100 new judges — a 21% increase.
That funding, which would begin in October if passed by Congress, is part of the president’s request for $35.2 billion for the Department of Justice, a 5.3 increase from what’s now in law for fiscal 2021.
The full budget will be released later this spring, Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Shalanda Young said in a statement.
“This moment of crisis is also a moment of possibility,” she said. “The upcoming appropriations process is another important opportunity to continue laying a stronger foundation for the future and reversing a legacy of chronic disinvestment in crucial priorities.”
A small piece of immigration reform tucked into Biden’s budget proposal to Congress would expand the availability of Pell Grants, subsidiaries provided by the federal government for low-income students to pay for college, to undocumented people in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as Dreamers.
The administration also proposed to increase the maximum Pell Grant available to each student by $400, which would be the largest one-time increase since 2009. Students can currently get a maximum $6,495 grant for the 2021-22 academic year.
There are more than 400,000 undocumented students pursuing higher eduction who do not qualify for federal financial aid and typically have to pay out-of-state tuition, even if they are residents of the states where they attend colleges and universities. Only 17 states and the District of Columbia offer in-state-tuition for undocumented students.
The Biden administration is also requesting $861 million next fiscal year as part of a four-year funding commitment, totaling $4 billion, to craft a strategy to address the root causes of migration from Central America to the United States.
“These resources would allow the United States to sustain effective regional partnerships and strengthen host government accountability to bolster service delivery and security by curtailing endemic corruption, preventing violence, reducing poverty, and expanding economic development,” according to the budget proposal.
The administration is also requesting a $354 million budget for DHS’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to clear naturalization and asylum backlogs and process 125,000 refugee admissions for 2022.
Biden also wants to allocate $470 million — an increase of $84 million from the previous year— to investigate workforce complaints and complaints of white supremacist beliefs at immigration enforcement agencies.
The budget proposal would also allocate $4.3 billion to HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement. Some of those funds would also go toward helping unaccompanied minors navigate the immigration court system. The funds also provide trauma and mental health services to children separated from their families, a policy enacted under the Trump administration.
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