White House Requests $8.6 Billion for Border Wall, Clamps Down on Asylum Fraud

May 1, 2019 Updated: May 13, 2019

WASHINGTON—The White House has put $8.6 billion in its budget for a border wall for fiscal year 2020, enough money to build around 300 miles of wall on the southwest border.

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan told a House Appropriations subcommittee on April 30 that the White House is seeking $5 billion of that for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), from which he said approximately 200 miles could be built. Combined with funding from the Department of Defense, he’s hoping to get $8.6 billion to build roughly 300 miles of new wall, he said in written testimony.

“Simply put, the system is full, and we are well beyond our capacity,” he said, referring to the record number of migrants showing up at the southwest border. “This is a proven deterrent that will enhance our ability to apprehend those entering our nation illegally.”

It follows the White House’s request from last year for $5.7 billion for a border wall, of which Congress allocated only $1.4 billion. In response, President Donald Trump called a national emergency that unlocked federal funds to make up the difference, but not before causing the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history.

With that money, the federal government is on track to build about 97 miles of new wall this year, with a total of 277 miles by the end of next year, according to Todd Semonite, the commanding general and chief of engineers of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Asylum Seekers

The United States is seeing a record number migrants arrive at the southern border, many of them in large groups, as families, and as unaccompanied children.

In March alone, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) counted a record 103,492 migrants. That’s up from 50,347 in 2018 and 16,794 in 2017.

Because of the large influx of people, CBP has taken on the role of a rescue agency, leaving less time and fewer resources to catch drug mules and traffickers crossing the border.

It has also stretched the budgets of the Department of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services, which cares for unaccompanied children.

McAleenan said DHS is on pace to run out of funding before the end of the year, and said he is planning to submit a supplemental appropriations request to Congress.

On average, about 16 percent of the migrants coming over the border assert they have a credible fear of persecution in their home country, which starts a lengthy legal process that can take years to complete. Claiming credible fear usually means a ticket to stay in the United States indefinitely. However, very few of them actually qualify for asylum.

Last year, the Department of Justice (DOJ) estimated that of the roughly 94,000 people who claimed credible fear only 6,000 had enough evidence to prove they qualified for asylum. That’s about 6 percent.

The White House puts that number at 12 percent.

As of November 2018, credible fear cases represented 26 percent of the backlog of removal cases, according to the DOJ.

On April 29 the White House announced a plan to clamp down on asylum fraud, calling it the “biggest loophole drawing illegal aliens to our borders.” Trump is asking the executive branch to come up with proposals on how to accomplish the following goals:

  • speed up and make more efficient the process for resolving credible fear claims
  • Adjudicate all asylum cases in immigration courts within roughly 6 months
  • Charge fees for asylum applications and work permits
  • Prevent those who entered or who attempted to enter the country illegally from receiving provisional work permits before being approved for relief
  • Immediately revoke work permits for those who have already been ordered to leave the country

Separately, McAleenan said he is working on a proposal to Congress that would address what he calls the “key drivers of the immigration crisis.”

He gave little indication what would be in the proposal, but hinted it will address laws that prevent the United States from returning children to non-contiguous countries.

Follow Holly on Twitter: @HollyGailK
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