On Thursday, the Senate approved a $19 billion disaster relief bill — long-awaited legislation that will be used to help states like California and Texas, as well as Puerto Rico, recover from natural disasters — after it was stripped of President Donald Trump’s request to include border security funding.
Trump had been critical of the amount of funding designated to aid Puerto Rico in the run-up to passage of the legislation, indicating he believed the territory was unfairly receiving more than some deserving U.S. states. The president had also hoped to include border security funding in the bill since Democrats have stymied other attempts the administration has made to fund new migrant housing facilities and resources to deal with the waves of people coming across the southern border.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said he spoke with Trump about the lack of emergency funds to address the migrant surge at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I had a nice conversation with the president,” Shelby said. “The president said OK.”
Trump had requested $4.5 billion to address the influx of migrants from Central America coming into the United States. Shelby said lawmakers would push for a separate deal to fund border aid.
The question now becomes: where will Trump find funding for border facilities to meet the resource needs of borders who are either waiting in Mexico for the chance to cross into the U.S. or are living in tents once they do make it across?
While the U.S. government builds tents to hold an increasing number of migrants crossing the border, Mexican shelter operators and immigration officials are warning that pressure is building on the south side of the border, too, as thousands of migrants are forced to wait in Mexico for a chance to make their case for asylum to an immigration agent or U.S. judge. In Ciudad Juárez, their numbers include not only Central Americans, but also refugees from Africa, South America, Europe and Asia.
Turns out the Trump administration has come up with some enterprising ways to piece funding together in anticipation that legislation of the sort Shelby is proposing — with the administration seeking approval from Congress for $4.5 billion to spend at the border ($1.1 specifically going toward border operations)— may take a while to materialize, if it materializes at all.
There have been reports already that the Department of Defense has been doing their part, loaning the tents for temporary shelter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), even as California and other states and organizations have sought to block the usage of Defense and Treasury Department funds for border operations after DOD already transferred $2.5 billion this year.
So the administration is turning to other agencies under DHS, such as the The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) who will be, among other things, collecting loose change from airports to aid in the effort.
The Transportation Security Administration plans to use loose change left in trays at airports to partly fund the $232 million that its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, has requested to help pay for border operations if Congress doesn’t agree to its $1.1 billion funding request.
The TSA is just one of almost two dozen agencies under the DHS umbrella, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, that could be forced to dole out millions of dollars from their budgets to pay for the ramped-up operations along the United States’ southern border.
“The Department is considering all options to address the humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border,” a DHS spokesperson said in a statement to Fox News. “We will continue to work with our workforce to find dynamic solutions and funding to address this very serious problem.”
Along with the $3 million in loose change found in airport trays, the TSA could also use another $50 million that would have gone toward the purchase of advanced airport screening equipment, and another $64 million from a worker’s compensation fund for injured employees.
Democrats may think pushing back on border security funding is a bold political move. But with migrants continuing to stress the limits of resources on both sides of the Southern border — and the TSA literally hunting down loose change to help address the problem — their push-back strategy may end up backfiring, making an agreement to approve separate legislation funding border operations their best bet going into the 2020 election cycle.
Sarah Lee is a freelance writer and policy wonk living and working in Washington, DC.