Inside Biden's Nearly $1 Billion Migrant Housing Plan

Free housing, medical care will only embolden illegal immigrants, former ICE officials say

Illegal migrants walk across the Rio Grande River / Getty Images
August 14, 2023

The White House’s latest proposal aimed at fixing the border crisis is a nearly $1 billion program that provides housing, medical care, and legal services for migrants. 

In a letter to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.), the White House said the requested money would be used "to continue the progress made since the president implemented his border enforcement and management plan after the Title 42 public health order lifted." That letter outlines a $759 million initiative for "community-based residential facilities … [with] medical care, legal programming, and other services through contracts, grants, or cooperative agreements with non-governmental organizations." Any refugee, asylum seeker, or "other migrants" would be eligible to live at the facility.

President Biden has presided over the worst border crisis in U.S. history with some five million migrants crossing the border illegally. The crisis has left blue cities like New York at their wit's end. Mayor Eric Adams warned the Biden administration earlier this month that New York is at capacity, with migrants sleeping on sidewalks, and asked for more financial aid.

The new housing program is part of a broader $40.1 billion supplementary spending package that includes arms for Ukraine and disaster relief, as well as $4 billion for immigration-related services. Critics such as former Immigration and Customs Enforcement acting director Thomas Homan say the program's promise of free housing will only exacerbate the border crisis.

"This proposal would be extremely expensive and would serve as yet another enticement, another magnet that will bring more families to our borders which will bring more harm to these families at the hands of criminal cartels who have sexually assaulted thousands of women and children," said Homan. "The U.S. homeless population has exploded, and this administration wants to give this type of program to those who broke our laws rather than homeless heroes."

The White House’s proposal will likely face roadblocks on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers have previously scrutinized a number of the Department of Homeland Security’s detention programs, as well as the nonprofits it works with to implement them. In one instance, an outside partner tasked with implementing an alternative to detention programs called for the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Republicans have accused the Biden administration of prioritizing "catch and release" programs rather than enforcement and deportation. The new housing proposal appears to be par for the courts—enrolled migrants will be given the ability to "depart unsupervised during certain hours" without any tracking mechanism.

"The Biden administration isn't asking Congress for actual border security or enforcement funding but instead seeks to create a taxpayer-funded shelter system rather than true custodial detention," said former senior executive and field office director at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement John Fabbricatore. 

A source familiar with the "community-based residential facilities" program said Immigration and Customs Enforcement is looking to repurpose two unaccompanied children shelters in Pecos and Carrizo Springs, Texas, that are run by a contractor called Endeavors. House Republicans launched an investigation into that firm earlier this month after a former Biden transition official was caught on video admitting that he funneled government contracts to nonprofits such as Endeavors, where he previously worked, despite their lack of industry experience.

"We continue to enforce U.S. immigration law, and to remove individuals and families without a legal basis to stay," a Department of Homeland Security spokesman told the Washington Free Beacon. "As numbers fluctuate, this Administration is committed to treating families humanely as we process them for expedited removal. This supplemental package will allow DHS to fund temporary housing facilities and services to manage families through the immigration process quickly, and facilitate their removal for those who do not have a legal basis to stay."

The language used by the White House in its funding request is also raising eyebrows. Although Immigration and Customs Enforcement is chiefly tasked with the detainment and removal of illegal aliens, under President Joe Biden’s request, ICE would be able to use any amount of its funds for housing rather than law enforcement. At the discretion of DHS chief Alejandro Mayorkas, "any noncitizen may be housed in the community-based residential facilities," the funding request states.

"It is a brazen attempt to pivot ICE funding away from law enforcement and detention, which are critical components of the agency's core mission," said Fabbricatore, who now serves on the board of the National Immigration Center for Enforcement. "Efforts like this are also being driven by people inside the agency who were tapped by Secretary Mayorkas to abolish ICE from within."

Some Republicans have already objected to Biden’s supplemental funding request on the grounds that it groups disparate issues, such as the war in Ukraine, with border security. Republican senator Marco Rubio (Fla.) said "Biden is holding Floridians hostage, and other Americans hostage, by tying critical domestic disaster relief to foreign military aid." Sen. J.D. Vance (R., Ohio) said that although he and Rubio "don’t always agree on Ukraine policy," his comments were "absolutely right."

In the House, Republicans such as Rep. Chip Roy (Texas) have taken a hardline position against any more money for the Department of Homeland Security. Roy earlier this month circulated a letter to House Republicans objecting to any budget deal that did not include more money for border security.