Justice Dept. Seeks Funding to Fight Domestic Extremism and Inequality
Attorney General Merrick Garland told lawmakers that he sought an 11 percent budget increase for Biden administration priorities.,
WASHINGTON — Attorney General Merrick B. Garland told lawmakers on Tuesday that the Justice Department needs more money for Biden administration priorities including combating domestic extremism, racial inequality, environmental degradation and gender 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 11 percent increase from the previous year.
The budget proposal, which includes funding for gun safety measures and immigration courts, reflects a commitment to ensure “the civil rights and the civil liberties” of Americans, Mr. Garland said in his opening remarks.
It also showed that Mr. Garland has prioritized efforts to fight domestic terrorism and protect civil rights over the department’s focus during the Trump administration on street crime and gangs.
Democrats generally expressed support for the proposed budget. Representative Matt Cartwright, Democrat of Pennsylvania and the chairman of the subcommittee, called the funding request a “historic opportunity to address 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 Justice Department’s Civil Rights division and other civil rights programs, a nearly 16 percent increase from the previous year, to protect voting rights and prosecute hate crimes. Mr. Garland called that work “critical to protecting the American dream.”
The department is also seeking an additional $101 million to address the rising threat of domestic terrorism, including $45 million for the F.B.I. and $40 million that federal prosecutors can use to manage their increasing domestic terrorism caseloads.
Republicans on the House committee said that they were concerned about any decision to de-emphasize the federal fight against violent crime and drug addiction, and they pushed back on Mr. Garland’s request for an additional $232 million to curb gun violence.
The additional funding would be used to enforce federal gun laws, give grants for community violence intervention programs, and support improved background checks and more comprehensive red-flag laws, which allow the police to temporarily confiscate firearms from people who are deemed a danger to themselves or others.
“I’m concerned that if implemented, this budget would irresponsibly invest taxpayer dollars in initiatives that lack the proper grounding in evidence or insights,” said Representative Robert B. Aderholt of Alabama, the top Republican on the subcommittee.
Representatives from both parties asked Mr. Garland about the immigration crisis at the southern border, as the United States struggles to handle the rising number of migrants trying to enter the country from Mexico. President Biden on Monday lifted a Trump-era limit to allow as many as 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 that the Justice Department’s role was largely to manage the immigration courts, which have nearly 1.3 million cases pending.
Mr. Garland said that the department sought a 21 percent increase in funding to immigration courts, which would support 100 new judges and technology to reduce the case backlog.
He said that the department’s current budget included $2.2 billion for the F.B.I. and the D.E.A. for immigration and drug enforcement at the southwest border and that the United States was seeking 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 seek and confirm his cooperation with respect to fighting transnational narcotics organizations, and he pledged his support to this as well,” Mr. Garland said. “This is a serious problem.”
Mr. Garland also said that the department sought $1 billion for Justice Department programs related to the Violence Against Women Act, nearly double the 2021 level.
The administration has said that the money would fund services for transgender survivors of domestic abuse, support women at historically Black colleges and in Hispanic and tribal institutions; and provide funding for domestic violence hotlines, cash assistance programs, medical services and emergency shelters.
It would also help address the nation’s backlog of unprocessed 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-oriented policing and programs that address systemic inequities in policing.