Will Bush Budget Stiff Border Patrol?

Republican House members are worried President Bush may present a fiscal 2006 budget that does not request full funding for all the new Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents that were authorized for next year in the bill responding to the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations that Bush signed into law in December.

The law authorized doubling the Border Patrol from about 10,000 agents to 20,000 by adding 2,000 per year for five years. It also authorized tripling ICE agents (who enforce immigration laws in the interior) from 2,000 to 6,000 by adding 800 per year for five years. Additionally, it authorized tripling detention beds where illegal aliens can be held to 60,000 over five years.

But USA Today published a story on January 25 based on an interview with outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge that was headlined: “2,000 new border agents aren’t part of budget, Ridge says.”

“The notion that you’re going to have 10,000 is sort of a fool’s gold,” Ridge said. “It’s nice to say you’re going to have 10,000 more Border Patrol agents in five years, but what other part of Homeland Security do you want to take money from.”

In December, Bush persuaded House Republicans to accept a bill that had been stripped of a provision that would stop federal agencies from accepting driver’s licenses issued by states that give licenses to illegal aliens. At the time, he specifically pointed out that the version of the bill he was ready to sign included the increase in Border Patrol agents and detention beds.

In a December 6 letter to the House-Senate conferees negotiating the bill, Bush said: “I also believe the conference took an important step in strengthening our immigration laws by, among other items, increasing the number of border patrol agents and detention beds.”

The day after USA Today published its story quoting Ridge, House Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R.-Wis.) held a press conference announcing a new bill, the Real ID Act, which includes the driver’s license provision stripped from last year’s bill. At the same time, he released a letter to President Bush from the five GOP House conferees who had worked on that measure: Sensenbrenner, International Relations Chairman Henry Hyde (Ill.), Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter (Calif.), Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra (Mich.) and Rules Chairman David Dreier (Calif.). “Now that you have signed into law the conference report implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission,” the chairmen told the President, “we as the conferees to the House-Senate conference committee are asking you to join us in seeking full funding for the resources it authorizes.” They specifically cited doubling the Border Patrol, tripling the ICE agents, and tripling detention beds.

John Feheery, spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R.-Ill.), told HUMAN EVENTS the speaker also favors appropriating these funds this year. “What is the point of authorizing it if you don’t appropriate it?” said Feheery.

Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R.-Ariz.) said he hopes Bush will use his “bully pulpit” to push the funding through the Senate. “This is the barest bones adequacy, and it is just a start,” said Hayworth. “There is so much more that remains to be done. We are a nation at war with vulnerable borders.”

When asked if the President would or would not seek the full funding as requested by the House chairmen, White House spokesman Allen K. Abney told HUMAN EVENTS: “We did receive the letter. We anticipate that the President’s budget will provide increased resources to continue these border security initiatives, but the specific details will not be released until early February.” When asked if that meant the President was not indicating yet whether there will be full funding for these items in his budget request, Abney said: “I am unable to give you any details on the budget until it is released in early February.”