The Under Reported Threat to the US of Smuggling Chinese

We have watched for years the chaos at the U.S. Southern border with Mexico. While there is has been a single focus on Latin Americans crossing into the United States, very little has been reported about the volume of Chinese. This should stimulate some critical thinking and questions.

Is this espionage, operatives or the building of a force for other reasons? In February of 2020, NBC News was asking some of the same questions.

A Chinese student walked around a perimeter fence at a U.S. naval base in Key West, taking pictures of government buildings. Stopped by police, he said he was trying to capture images of the sunrise.

aerial view of nas key west naval air station base truman ...

And nine days after that, two more Chinese students drove past a guard at the same naval base. When stopped by security 30 minutes later, they voluntarily displayed the videos and photos they had taken of the base.

The first Chinese student arrested at the naval base in Key West was Zhao Qianli, 20, who was taken into custody on Sept. 26, 2018.

Zhao entered the base by walking along the facility’s secure fence line and trudging through the beach, court documents say.

Zhao headed directly to the Joint Interagency Task Force South property, according to court records, where he took several photographs on his Motorola cellphone and his Canon EOS digital camera.

His devices contained photos and videos of sensitive equipment at the facility’s “antenna farm,” as well as images of warning signs that read “Military Installation” and “Restricted Area,” according to court documents.

Zhao initially told military police that he was “lost” and that he was a “dishwasher from New Jersey.” In later conversations with the FBI, Zhao said he traveled to Key West to “see the sights, such as the Hemingway House,” but there were no images of tourist attractions on his phone, according to his sentencing memo.

Zhao admitted to receiving military training as a university student in China and was found to have a “police blouse” and a People’s Republic of China Interior Ministry belt buckle at his hotel, the memo says.

 

In 2016, Newsweek in part reported:

Smuggling Chinese across the southern U.S. border appeals to traffickers because it is more lucrative than smuggling individuals from Mexico or Central America. A longer journey commands a steeper price and the going rate per person is believed to be somewhere between $50,000 and $70,000; the total value of the trade for the Chinese mafias involved has been estimated at $750 million.

The role of Chinese mafia groups (triads) in bringing migrants across the border has also deepened their exposure to and ties with Latin American narcotics cartels, both in human smuggling and beyond.

An “alliance between Chinese and Latin American smuggling rings” was noted as early as 1993, but today the scope of this “alliance” encompasses not just smuggling, but also other illicit activity including the sale of drug precursors from Asia and pirated materials.

In Mexico, contact between triads and cartels occurs in various regions, including those ruled by the ruthless Los Zetas syndicate and the Gulf and Juarez cartels, depending on what routes are used for migrants. Triad groups are believed to operate in the Mexican state of Chiapas and the Red Dragon triad, which operates in Peru, is involved not only in smuggling, but also in extortion and drug trafficking within Latin America. The wide-ranging activities of transnational organized crime groups generate additional law enforcement concerns beyond border security.

But it is important to look to the other side of our country, the area of the Bahamas and South Florida. A few islands in the Bahamas are now fully owned by China, one such island is Bird Cay. From Forbes in 2019 in part:

Quoting CaribbeanNews.com directly:

“China has set its sights on The Bahamas and has invested billions of dollars in building new infrastructure and industry across the country.

New roads, new businesses, new hotels, and booming Chinese immigration has led to many companies being staffed with more Chinese workers than local Bahamians.”

Plus, “Reports show that over 200,000 Chinese are illegally smuggled into the Caribbean every year to open their shops or work at Chinese businesses, with many sending their money back to China.”

However, the local government doesn’t see how it’s in a good position to do anything about it since Chinese state banks are simultaneously flooding the islands with tens of millions of dollars… even going so far as to finance new ports there.

Private Islands for sale - Bird Cay - Bahamas - Caribbean Bird Cay, owned now by China

Hold on, there is South Florida where those smuggled Chinese are making their way into the United States aboard some very expensive yachts.

The Miami Herald just last year told us:

Dozens of Chinese nationals without proper papers have been smuggled from the Bahamas to South Florida by operators of luxury yachts who are charging them thousands of dollars each for the short Atlantic journey, according to federal criminal cases.

In recent instances, the Coast Guard stopped two vessels approaching the South Florida shore, leading to the arrests of three men accused of transporting a total of 26 Chinese passengers and one Bahamian, court records show. The alien smuggling operations were not related, however.

Rocco Oppedisano, a 51-year-old Italian national, is scheduled for arraignment in Miami federal court Wednesday on charges of conspiring to transport aliens into the United States and bringing them here for financial gain. Oppedisano told a magistrate judge this week that properties he once owned in the Northeast have been sold along with his Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Fiat vehicles to pay for legal costs over his immigration troubles.

Oppedisano was stopped by the Coast Guard on Dec. 2 while he was commandeering a 63-foot Sunseeker yacht named INXS FINALLY with 14 Chinese passengers and one Bahamian, according to an indictment. Among the passengers was a Chinese national, Ying Lian Li, who was deported last April but tried to re-enter the country.

It is unclear why these Chinese nationals — unlike Cubans and Haitians smuggled here in both go-fast and rickety boats in the past — sought to come to South Florida. But over the past five years, the Bahamas has experienced an influx of Chinese workers flocking to the archipelago as part of a push by China to invest in the country’s hotel, tourism and trade industries.

In the other alien smuggling case, a Coast Guard cutter encountered a 70-foot Hatteras yacht about 20 miles east of South Florida on July 23, when officers radioed the vessel to ask how many people were on board. The yacht’s response: two crew and eight Japanese passengers with passports, who did not need additional visas to enter the United States.

It was all a lie, according to a Homeland Security Investigations criminal affidavit.

About 10 miles east of Port Everglades, Coast Guard officers boarded the yacht and asked crew member Robert L. McNeil Jr. to bring all the passengers on deck. The officers counted 12 passengers with passports from the People’s Republic of China but without required visas to enter the United States, according to the HSI affidavit.

The Coast Guard concluded that none of the 12 Chinese nationals possessed documents that would allow them to enter the United States legally. McNeil, and the yacht’s charter captain, James A. Bradford, along with the 12 Chinese nationals were transferred to the Coast Guard cutter.

During questioning, Bradford said he left South Florida on the Hatteras yacht bearing the name CAREFREE on July 22 and arrived in Nassau, Bahamas, that day. He admitted that the purpose of the trip was to pick up a “tour group of aliens” in the Bahamas, transport them to South Florida and return to the Bahamas on July 26.

Bradford, who has been a charter captain for decades, said “he never checked to see if the passengers had proper documents to come to the U.S.,” according to the affidavit.

A search of the yacht uncovered 10 cellphones in the bridge area; none of the Chinese nationals had mobile phones on them.

“Based on my knowledge and experience in human smuggling cases, smugglers often collect cell phones from migrants until they are paid for delivering the migrants to the U.S.” wrote HSI special agent David Jansen, who added that none of the passengers carried any luggage.

The search also uncovered $118,100 hidden behind the wall paneling of the yacht’s master bedroom, the affidavit said. Investigators also seized more than $2,800 from McNeil.

Both Bradford and McNeil were indicted on charges of conspiring to transport aliens into the United States and bringing them here for financial gain. To resolve his case, McNeil pleaded guilty earlier this month to one count of alien smuggling to make a profit. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

The Hill says this is a disturbing trend.

Matt Cardy/Getty Images

While it’s unclear why these Chinese nationals sought to come to South Florida, the move is part of a larger five-year trend in the region. The Bahamas has seen a surge of Chinese workers as China invests in the archipelago’s hospitality and tourism industries. China’s presence in the Bahamas reportedly stems from a burgeoning relationship between the two countries, after China provided disaster relief in a bid to establish trade.

 

SCOTUS Unanimous Decision on Temporary Protective Status

There have been several unanimous decisions out of the Supreme Court lately and this one is curious. The progressive Jurist Elena Kagan wrote this on regarding immigrants obtaining a green cards status….simple description….NO, they can’t have one.

Sounds good…but hold on.

And remember –> The Trump administration has ordered an end to TPS benefits for nearly all immigrants who had them, stating that the program is meant to provide temporary rather than long-term relief. But a series of lawsuits challenging the administration’s decision have blocked those orders from taking effect, giving the vast majority of these immigrants a reprieve until early 2021.

Immigrants from 10 nations have Temporary Protected Status

LATimes:

The Supreme Court on Monday dealt a setback to hundreds of thousands of immigrants who have so-called temporary protected status, ruling they can’t have a green card if they entered the country illegally.

That means TPS recipients who entered the county legally as students or tourists, and stayed under TPS may obtain a green card, said Justice Elena Kagan. But the same is not true of those who entered illegally.

“Because a grant of TPS does not come with a ticket of admission,” she wrote in Sanchez vs. Mayorkas, “it does not eliminate the disqualifying effect of an unlawful entry.”

Temporary protected status has been extended to about 320,000 immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua and Sudan.

But lower courts had been divided over whether these migrants, many of whom have lived here for decades, may apply for and receive lawful permanent status. Four years ago, the 9th Circuit Court in California ruled that TPS recipients were eligible for green cards even if they entered the country illegally.

The case decided by the Supreme Court began when Jose Sanchez and his wife, Sonia Gonzalez, sought green cards. They arrived from El Salvador in the late 1990s, established lives and careers in New Jersey and had four sons. But they were not lawfully admitted.

Kagan said Congress is considering legislation that would allow such TPS recipients to obtain lawful permanent resident status, but only Congress, not the court, can change the law in this respect.

“Sanchez was not lawfully admitted, and his TPS does not alter that fact,” she wrote. “He therefore cannot become a permanent resident of this country.”

***

When can the Secretary designate a country for TPS?

The Secretary can designate a country for TPS due to:

  • Ongoing armed conflict (such as civil war),
  • An environmental disaster (such as earthquake or hurricane), or an epidemic, or
  • Other extraordinary and temporary conditions.

Who is eligible for TPS?

TPS can be granted to an individual who is a national of a designated country, has filed for status during a specified registration period, and who has been continuously physically present in the U.S. since a designated date.

What are the benefits of TPS?

During a designated period, TPS holders are:

  • Not removable from the U.S. and not detainable by DHS on the basis of his or her immigration status,
  • Eligible for an employment authorization document (EAD), and
  • Eligible for travel authorization.

How many individuals are currently granted TPS?

The U.S. currently provides TPS to over 400,000 foreign nationals from the following countries, not including individuals from Venezuela and Burma as they were just recently designated:

Country Estimated Number
Venezuela 323,000 eligible
El Salvador 251,567
Honduras 80,709
Haiti 56,453
Nepal 14,575
Syria 7,010
Nicaragua 4,526
Yemen 1,465
Sudan 805
Somalia 465
South Sudan 83
Burma N/A

Where do TPS holders live?

TPS holders reside all over the United States. The largest populations of TPS holders live in California (17.95%), Florida (13.75%), Texas (12.88%), New York (12.33%), and Virginia (6.75%). Most TPS holders from El Salvador live in the Washington, DC (32,359), Los Angeles (30,415) and New York (23,168) metropolitan areas. Honduran TPS holders live mostly in the New York (8,818), Miami (7,467) and Houston (6,060) metropolitan areas. Haitian TPS holders live mainly in the Miami (16,287), New York (9,402) and Boston (4,302) metropolitan areas. source

We have no idea how many people have been granted TPS, there are only estimates as noted here.

(From uscis.gov website)

Drug Cartels 1 Biden Administration 0

Primer: Secretary of State, Tony Blinken is traveling to Costa Rica to meet with several country leaders from Central America.It is said he will discuss regional issues including economic growth, the pandemic and climate change impacts. But wait, what about VP Kamala Harris, where is she? Furthermore, what about the issue of immigration, narcotics trafficking or human smuggling?

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is feckless when it comes to the real issues and solutions, especially the cartels….so read on.

Graphic: Bodies of drug runners, human traffickers ... source

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The notoriously violent Jalisco cartel has responded to Mexico’s “hugs, not bullets” policy with a policy of its own: The cartel kidnapped several members of an elite police force in the state of Guanajuato, tortured them to obtain names and addresses of fellow officers and is now hunting down and killing police at their homes, on their days off, in front of their families.

It is a type of direct attack on officers seldom seen outside of the most gang-plagued nations of Central America and poses the most direct challenge yet to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s policy of avoiding violence and rejecting any war on the cartels.

But the cartel has already declared war on the government, aiming to eradicate an elite state force known as the Tactical Group which the gang accuses of treating its members unfairly.

“If you want war, you’ll get a war. We have already shown that we know where you are. We are coming for all of you,” reads a professionally printed banner signed by the cartel and hung on a building in Guanajuato in May. Read more here.

***

Organized crime involving even the police is an integral part of the worsening immigration crisis. Criminal organizations are involved at every stage of the migration process, from motivating migrant departures for the United States to security along human smuggling routes through Mexico, to the mechanisms for entering the United States undetected.

There are two kinds of criminal groups at work here — transnational gangs and transnational criminal organizations. The brutal violence and unchecked extortion perpetrated by transnational gangs in the Northern Triangle (the nations of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala), targeting both civilian populations and rival gang members, motivate Central Americans to uproot their lives and families in the hope of a better, safer life in America.

Transnational criminal organizations control, regulate, and tax every land port along the southern border. They also control smuggling routes through Mexico and impose a tax, called a piso, on the smugglers and migrants who use them. These groups control the flow of migrant caravans, strategically diverting Border Patrol resources from sectors of the border that are used to smuggle illegal drugs into the United States.

For those who choose to leave the Northern Triangle for a better life in America, the escape from territory controlled by transnational gangs leads them into territory controlled by the transnational criminal organizations.

In most cases, they use coyotes — human smugglers and traffickers who charge them thousands of dollars. Human smugglers range from independent operators and loose networks to subsidiaries of the transnational criminal organizations themselves.

Beyond what migrants pay up front, as the Associated Press reports, many are kidnapped and tortured “until they reveal the phone numbers of relatives in the United States and holding them for ransom.”

If they can’t pay — or if their families can’t — they’re killed. As one analyst points out, “It’s a long trail of extortions, and it’s a very dangerous journey for all of them.”

The groups also sometimes use migrants as drug mules. They will coerce migrants traveling through their territory into carrying large bags, or mochilas, filled with illegal drugs. Not only does this perpetuate the stream of narcotics into the U.S., it also victimizes migrants, making them desperate to unlawfully enter and remain in the U.S. — even if imprisoned on drug charges — for fear of being killed if they are sent home.

The bottom line is that throwing open our borders — as President Biden has effectively done — only serves to empower these transnational criminal enterprises. His immigration policies aren’t humanitarian; they’re creating more victims.

Will Biden Challenge Turkey/Erdogan for Funding Hamas?

Primer: The IDF spokesperson, LTC Jonathan Conricus declared in a recent briefing:

IDF had assassinated Hussam Abu Harbeed, who commanded Islamic Jihad’s northern Gaza brigade and led attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians for almost 15 years.

In a statement, the IDF said Harbeed “was behind several anti-tank missile terror attacks against Israeli civilians.” One of those attacks occurred on the first day of the current round of fighting when a civilian was wounded, Conricus said.

There was no immediate confirmation from Islamic Jihad or its armed wing, the al-Quds Brigades, about the assassination.

Conricus also announced Monday it had destroyed just about 60 miles of militant tunnels.

“Our fighter jets neutralized 9.3 miles of the Hamas ‘Metro’ terror tunnel system overnight. That’s 9.3 miles that can no longer be used for terror,” it said in a statement before the updated information was provided by Conricus.

Air strike kills jihad commander in Gaza

I was asked 2 days ago who funds Gaza….there is no single name or organization actually…it is hardly that simple. The Islamic National Bank in Gaza served as a terrorist vault for Hamas, directly funding its rocket production operations. So, the U.S. Treasury has some extraordinary tools to investigate monies going in and out of financial institutions across the world, why not use them, or do they and just ignore their findings? Would other countries and nefarious organizations be cast in funding terror? Yes…much like Turkey.

Taken from The Investigative Project:

Turkish Support for Hamas

We should remember that Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Hamas have roots in Muslim Brotherhood networks. They share a similar anti-Western, anti-Israel ideology. Turkey’s ties to Hamas – and specific members who are Specially Designated Global Terrorists – have been extensively documented. Hamas officials and Egyptian Islamists have found shelter and have been free to pursue their financing and planning their operations there. For example, Hamas finance chief Zaher Jabarin developed a financial network in Turkey that enabled Hamas “to raise, invest, and launder money prior to transferring it to Gaza and the West Bank,” a 2019 U.S. Treasury Department statement said.

Turkish presence in the Palestinian territories, and especially the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, is cemented by official agreements and its actions are conducted under the guise of technical and humanitarian assistance. Turkey is already implicated in upgrading Palestinian military structures and forces against Israel.

Turkey has trained Palestinian Authority security forces, not only to fight organized crime, Deputy Foreign Minister Yavuz Selim Kıran said last year, but to “create a significant [Palestinian] resistance against Israel’s occupation policies and its oppression.”

The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA), a relief agency, has permanent offices in the Gaza Strip and in Ramallah. TIKA funds are channeled to various field organizations controlled by Hamas, thus indirectly supporting Hamas operations. İHH (Humanitarian Relief Foundation) is a radical anti-Western and anti-Israeli Turkish NGO, also present in Gaza. İHH has been designated as a terrorist organization by Israeli authorities since 2008 due to its funding of Hamas’ military wing. IHH was also implicated in the notorious 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, when a flotilla trying to break a blockade on Gaza was boarded by Israeli commandos. Passengers attacked the Israeli troops, causing the soldiers to fight back, killing 10 people.

Erdogan broke off diplomatic relations with Israel and accused it of lying about the incident.

In addition to supporting Hamas, İHH has cooperated with radical Islamist groups in Algeria and Iran by helping with counterfeited passports, weapons trafficking, and assisting mujahideen to reach various war zones, such as Bosnia and Chechnya.

As Turkey provides financial assistance to Gaza through TIKA and IHH, it consciously assists Hamas, which can focus solely on preparing its aggression against Israeli civilians. Once again, Turkey proves to be an invaluable diplomatic ally of Hamas.

By appealing to the Muslim world and using the Palestinian issue as a pretext, Turkey repeats its attempt to head the Islamist International. Turkey has since long decided to part ways with the Western world and its values by affiliating itself with radical Islamists. It is time for the United States and for NATO to realize that Turkey is a state acting in contrast to the shared values and the geostrategic interests of the West.

In part from JW:

Now that the Islamic terrorists of Hamas and the PLO have responded to a pro-terrorist administration in the White House by restarting a full-scale war, the Biden administration is sending their best man out to mediate between Israel and the terrorists.

S Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Wednesday that he is sending an envoy to the Middle East to “seek to calm tensions” even as he urged Israel to avoid killing civilians.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hady Amr, who oversees Israeli and Palestinian Authority affairs at the department, was to leave Wednesday. He is expected to meet with both Israeli and Palestinian Authority leaders.

If the man sounds at all familiar, it ought to.

“I was inspired by the Palestinian intifada,” Hady Amr wrote a year after September 11, discussing his work as the national coordinator of the anti-Israel Middle East Justice Network.

“I have news for every Israeli,” Amr ranted in one column written after Sheikh Salah Shahada, the head of Hamas’ Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, was taken out by an Israeli air strike.

Amr warned that Arabs “now have televisions, and they will never, never forget what the Israeli people, the Israeli military and Israeli democracy have done to Palestinian children. And there will be thousands who will seek to avenge these brutal murders of innocents.”

He also threatened Americans that “we too shouldn’t be shocked when our military assistance to Israel and our security council vetoes that keep on protecting Israel come back to haunt us”

Amr then got a gig from Qatar: the state sponsor of Hamas.

A few years later, the Beirut-born extremist had become an advisor on Muslim relations to the World Economic Forum before heading up Brookings’ Doha Center for Qatar. The tiny Islamic tyranny is allied with Iran, Al Qaeda, and the Muslim Brotherhood. It’s a backer of Hamas.

A decade after Amr had responded to the death of a Hamas leader by ranting that “there will be thousands who will seek to avenge these brutal murders of innocents”, the Obama administration made him a Deputy to its Special Envoy for Israeli Palestinian negotiations.

At Brookings Doha, Amr had urged that the “Muslim brotherhood organizations across the Muslim World should be engaged”. Then he wondered, “in Lebanese and Palestinian society, the faith-based organizations are seen as the least corrupt… Hamas and Hezbollah are often cited by their populations as being non-corrupt. This needs more analysis. Is this the case?”

Over the past few years, Amr has repeatedly urged negotiations with Hamas. When the Trump administration unveiled its proposed peace deal, Amr co-wrote an article declaring that it should be scrapped in favor of focusing on a deal with Hamas.

“By laying out the terms of a three-way Hamas-Israel-PA/PLO deal now, and building an international consensus around it, the United States could create a pathway toward resolution,” the article had argued. That would potentially not only restart Obama’s attempt to impose a plan on Israel, but would do so not only on behalf of the PLO, but also on behalf of Hamas.

Hady Amr got the flow of US aid restarted. Now the fighting will help him bring Hamas into the “negotiations”.

In 2019, Amr had co-written an article arguing that the United States should lay “out the terms of a three-way Hamas-Israel-PA/PLO deal now” and “build an international consensus around it.”

That would mean the Biden administration and its point man developing a plan to legitimize Hamas, gaining the support of the Europeans and the Russians, and then imposing it on Israel.

Hamas, according to Amr and his co-authors, would offer Israel nothing more than a cease-fire, while Israel would have to “incentivize” by “offering a significant move” on peace.

You can’t have a cease-fire without a war.

 

HHS Shifting $2 Billion to UAC’s Confirms it is a Crisis

Shuffling money to cover for a self-made crisis at the border…..remember President Trump was excoriated for doing the same thing but this is different?

So, we sacrifice the national stockpile for pandemics for the border insurgency? This is $ billion but does that only cover what has already been spent or for the next month or so…inquiring minds want to know the full accounting..

*** The Trump administration is currently housing 12,800 ...

Politico: The Department of Health and Human Services has diverted more than $2 billion meant for other health initiatives toward covering the cost of caring for unaccompanied immigrant children, as the Biden administration grapples with a record influx of migrants on the southern border.

The redirected funds include $850 million that Congress originally allocated to rebuild the nation’s Strategic National Stockpile, the emergency medical reserve strained by the Covid-19 response. Another $850 million is being taken from a pot intended to help expand coronavirus testing, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.

The reshuffling, which HHS detailed to congressional appropriators in notices over the last two months, illustrates the extraordinary financial toll that sheltering more than 20,000 unaccompanied children has taken on the department so far this year, as it scrambled to open emergency housing and add staff and services across the country.

It also could open the administration up to further scrutiny over a border strategy that has dogged President Joe Biden for months, as administration officials struggle to stem the flow of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children into the U.S.

On its own, the $2.13 billion in diverted money exceeds the government’s annual budget for the unaccompanied children program in each of the last two fiscal years. It is also far above the roughly half-billion dollars that the Trump administration shifted in 2018 toward sheltering a migrant child population that had swelled as a result of its strict immigration policies, including separating children from adults at the border.

In addition to transferring money from the Strategic National Stockpile and Covid-19 testing, HHS also has pulled roughly $436 million from a range of existing health initiatives across the department.

“They’ve been in a situation of needing to very rapidly expand capacity, and emergency capacity is much more expensive,” said Mark Greenberg, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute who led HHS’ Administration for Children and Families from 2013 to 2015. “You can’t just say there’s going to be a waiting list or we’re going to shut off intake. There’s literally not a choice.”

HHS spokesperson Mark Weber told POLITICO that the department has worked closely with the Office of Management and Budget to find ways to keep its unaccompanied minor operation funded in the face of rising costs.

“All options are on the table,” he said, adding that HHS has traditionally sought to pull funding from parts of the department where the money is not immediately needed. “This program has relied, year after year, on the transfer of funds.”

Health secretary Xavier Becerra has the ability to shift money among programs within the sprawling department so long as he notifies Congress, an authority that his predecessors have often resorted to during past influxes of migrant children.

But these transfers come as HHS has publicly sought to pump new funds into the Strategic National Stockpile and Covid-19 testing efforts by emphasizing the critical role that both play in the pandemic response and future preparedness efforts.

“The fight against Covid-19 is not yet over,” Becerra testified to a House panel on Wednesday in defense of a budget request that would allocate $905 million for the stockpile. “Even as HHS works to beat this pandemic, we are also preparing for the next public health crisis.”

Becerra later stressed the need to “make sure we’ve got the resources” to replenish the Strategic National Stockpile, which came under scrutiny early in the pandemic after officials discovered it lacked anywhere near the amount of protective equipment and medical supplies needed to respond to the crisis.

“We’ve learned that this is going to be a critical component of being able to respond adequately and quickly to any future health care crisis,” he told Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.).

In another exchange, Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) repeatedly pressed Becerra over whether HHS would benefit from Congress investing more in other parts of its operation, rather than funding a further expansion of Covid testing. Mullin specifically cited the record numbers of migrant children arriving at the border.

But Becerra batted that suggestion away, telling him that “we have to continue an aggressive testing strategy.”

“We have to continue to make investments to prevent the spread of Covid and its variants,” he said.

Beyond taking funding from the stockpile and Covid testing, Weber could not immediately say what other areas within HHS have been affected. After publication of this article, HHS insisted that additional public health funding Congress allocated as part of a Covid aid bill passed in February could be steered toward the stockpile and supplementing its pandemic response.

Still, funneling money away from existing HHS programs could raise fears of undermining other critical health initiatives and irritate the public health groups and lawmakers who advocate for the funding every year.

The Trump administration faced withering criticism in 2018 for transferring hundreds of millions of dollars meant for biomedical research, HIV/AIDS services and other purposes to cover the expenses tied to an unaccompanied child population that would peak close to 14,000 that year.

That scrutiny was driven in part by bipartisan disapproval over then-President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy that separated children from their parents, which left HHS with responsibility for carrying out a costly reunification effort.

The Biden administration, by contrast, has moved to unwind several of the Trump era’s most restrictive immigration policies. Yet as it confronts the need to care for an even greater number of migrant children, health groups have bristled at the prospect it could take away from public health priorities even as the U.S. combats a pandemic.

“It is concerning any time funds need to be diverted from their originally intended purpose because of limited resources,” said Erin Morton, executive director of the Coalition for Health Funding. “We have consistently asked our public health system to do more with less and we have underfunded essential programs that today are critical to addressing the multitude of challenges facing the country.”

The transfers could also stretch funding for other programs within HHS’ Administration for Children and Families, which oversees various social services including child care and support for newly arrived refugees.

Biden cited concerns about the strain on the HHS refugee office involved with both aiding refugees and caring for unaccompanied children in his initial refusal to raise the refugee admissions cap from historic lows — a decision he later reversed in the face of swift blowback.

“Obviously this will have a significant impact on the ability of ORR to serve refugees and asylees,” Bob Carey, who ran the Office of Refugee Resettlement from 2015 to 2017, said of the potential need to shift more funding toward sheltering migrant children.

Still, Carey and others defended the transfers as unfortunate yet necessary, and a consequence of the urgent need to get rising numbers of unaccompanied children out of jail-like facilities at the border.

After effectively sealing the southern border last year, the Trump administration never expanded its shelter capacity to the level that HHS has pegged as critical to its preparedness, Greenberg said, leaving the department shorthanded when Biden resumed allowing migrant children into the country.

The pandemic further handicapped HHS, halving its number of available beds due to the need to follow Covid-19 precautions. That forced a scramble to build out a dozen emergency shelters that have historically, on average, cost more than double the amount per day to house each child than it does in licensed facilities.

More than half the migrant children in HHS custody are now housed in emergency shelters, Weber confirmed. And implementing pandemic measures like testing and quarantine areas in shelters has cost HHS at least $850 million in additional expenses alone.

HHS in recent months has additionally agreed to hundreds of millions of dollars in no-bid contracts with an array of emergency response and logistics companies to build out services and staff at the emergency shelters.

“If they had started this year with 16,000 beds instead of 8,000, they could have managed in February and had time to determine how in an orderly way to expand capacity for the very large numbers in March,” Greenberg said. “Fundamentally, it’s this mix of: numbers were greater than expected, capacity was less than needed and there was tremendous pressure to alleviate crowding at [the border].”

Those dynamics are expected to hold for at least the next couple months, as hundreds of new unaccompanied minors arrive at the border daily and are transferred into the health department’s care.

And with no indication so far that the Biden administration will seek new emergency border aid from Congress, that means HHS’ expenses are only likely to balloon further, forcing additional costly transfers within the department.

“It’s going to be expensive,” Carey said. “I can’t think of a situation that’s more complex than this.”