WASHINGTON – Attorney General Merrick B. Garland told lawmakers on Tuesday that the Justice Department needs more money for the priorities of the Biden administration, including tackling domestic extremism, racial inequality, environmental degradation and gender-based violence.
In his first Congressional hearing since his confirmation, Mr. Garland appeared before the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Justice Department to discuss his $ 35.2 billion budget request for the fiscal year that begins in October, an increase of 11% over the previous year.
The budget proposal, which includes funding for gun safety measures and immigration courts, reflects a commitment to guarantee “civil rights and civil liberties” for Americans, Garland said in his speech to ‘opening.
It also showed that Mr. Garland prioritized efforts to fight domestic terrorism and protect civil rights over the ministry’s focus during the Trump administration on street crime and gangs.
Democrats have generally expressed support for the proposed budget. Representative Matt Cartwright, Democrat of Pennsylvania and chair of the subcommittee, called the funding request a “historic opportunity to overcome systemic barriers to full participation in society, ensure access to economic opportunities, and protect the right to vote”.
The budget request includes $ 209 million for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and other civil rights programs, an increase of almost 16% from the previous year, to protect the rights of vote and prosecute hate crimes. Mr. Garland called this work “essential to protect the American dream.”
The department is also seeking an additional $ 101 million to address the growing threat of domestic terrorism, including $ 45 million for the FBI and $ 40 million that federal prosecutors can use to manage their growing number of domestic terrorism cases.
Republicans on the House committee expressed concern over any move to de-emphasis the federal fight against violent crime and drug addiction, and they rejected Mr. Garland’s request for an additional $ 232 million to fight gun violence. .
The additional funding would be used to enforce federal gun laws, provide grants for community violence intervention programs, and support better background checks and more comprehensive alert laws, which allow the police to temporarily confiscate firearms from people considered to be a danger to themselves. or others.
“I am concerned that if implemented this budget would irresponsibly invest taxpayers’ money in initiatives that lack the proper basis of evidence or insight,” said Representative Robert B. Aderholt of Alabama, the main Republican on the subcommittee.
Representatives from both sides asked Mr. Garland about the immigration crisis at the southern border as the United States struggles to deal with the growing number of migrants trying to enter the country from Mexico. President Biden lifted a Trump-era limit on Monday to allow 62,500 refugees fleeing war, violence and natural disasters to enter the United States over the next six months.
Noting that the Department of Homeland Security was primarily responsible for border security, Mr Garland said the role of the Department of Justice was largely to manage immigration courts, which have nearly 1.3 million pending cases.
Mr. Garland said the department is asking for a 21% increase. 100% funding for immigration courts, which would support 100 new judges and technology to reduce the backlog of cases.
He said the department’s current budget included $ 2.2 billion for the FBI and DEA for immigration and the fight against drugs on the southwest border and that the United States was looking to work with Mexico. to fight crime.
“One of the first things I did internationally as Attorney General was to speak to the Attorney General of Mexico to request and confirm his cooperation in the fight against transnational narcotics organizations, and he has pledged his support for that as well, ”Garland said. . “This is a serious problem.”
Mr Garland also said the department requested $ 1 billion for Justice Department programs related to the Violence Against Women Act, nearly double the 2021 level.
The administration said the money would fund services for transgender survivors of domestic violence; support women in historically black colleges and Hispanic and tribal institutions; and provide funding for domestic violence helplines, cash assistance programs, medical services and emergency shelters.
It would also address the national backlog of untreated rape kits and fund new training programs for law enforcement officers and prosecutors dedicated to investigating gender-based violence.
The Justice Department also wants $ 1.2 billion – $ 304 million more than the previous year – to support community policing and programs that address systemic inequalities in policing.