The White House asked Congress today for billions more in taxpayer dollars to fund further militarization of the border and more jail beds for asylum seekers and other immigrants. The request came only months after Congress handed DHS an unprecedented $25 billion immigration and border enforcement budget in its 2019 spending bill.
“Congress must not fall for this administration’s rhetoric that building more prisons and infrastructure to block asylum seekers and other immigrants from protection is somehow ‘humanitarian aid,’” said NIJC Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy. “Conflating this administration’s policies with real humanitarian aid is an insult to the communities and humanitarian organizations who have actually worked to support the people whose lives have been torn apart by violence and, increasingly, by the U.S. government’s failed anti-immigrant policies. We call on members of Congress to dismiss this request out of hand.”
The Trump administration’s total request for $4.5 billion would span the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Justice (DOJ), and Health and Human Services (HHS). Only $10 million of the funds requested for DHS and DOJ are earmarked for purposes that could be plausibly considered humanitarian, such as food, clothing, blankets and other “consumables,” in addition to a large funding request for HHS to expand its shelter system for unaccompanied children. The rest of the requested funds would further the administration’s policies aimed at deterring and criminalizing migration:
- Provide $342 million to grow the immigration incarceration system, even as fresh news breaks almost daily of abuses and negligence within Immigration and Customs’ Enforcement (ICE) jails, including insufficient medical care resulting in unsafe conditions and quarantines, a rise in the number of detained women enduring miscarriages, and sham inspections that breed impunity. In NIJC’s recent report “A Better Way,” we have called on the administration to end the use of immigration incarceration and instead adopt community-based approaches used in numerous other countries that are less expensive, more effective, and - most importantly - compassionate.
- Give millions to expand the notorious Dilley Family Detention Center, allowing DHS to jail nearly 1,000 more parents and children in family jails each day. DHS’s own medical experts have utilized whistleblower protections to warn that the continued use of family detention puts children’s lives and wellbeing at risk. Any continued use of these facilities, not to mention expansion, is unconscionable.
- Fund a pilot program for border patrol agents to become asylum officers who conduct threshold interviews for arriving asylum seekers. This pilot program is unlawful on its face and would result in the return of countless asylum seekers to harm simply because they are too afraid to recount their traumatic pasts to armed border guards.
- Expand programming billed as “counter-smuggling” to target sponsors of unaccompanied children. The request seeks $15 million in new funds for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations to “investigate transnational criminal organizations involved in human smuggling and trafficking.” We know, from recent FOIA revelations, that such initiatives are used not to combat transnational crime but rather to target sponsors of unaccompanied children and disrupt the family reunification process. Newly released FOIA documents, for example, include a concept of operations paper describing a “smuggling disruption initiative,” which led to the arrest of more than 400 people between June and August of 2017 who were targeted after coming forward to sponsor unaccompanied children. The initiative had devastating effects, leading to coercion, misrepresentation, and circumvention of due process rights, and permanent separation of families.
- More funding for border militarization and harmful surveillance. The request includes an increase in $377 million in funding for “Operation Guardian,” a joint operation opposed by many state leaders that utilizes the National Guard to support CBP, furthering the militarization of the border to the detriment of humanitarian efforts underway. Funding is also requested for increased surveillance and intelligence support for CBP, including new technology to process and “track migrants in CBP custody.” The increase in surveillance technology raises serious concern in the wake of growing scandals involving spying and harassment of journalists and lawyers at the border, and DHS monitoring of family separation protests.
- More funds to DOJ U.S. Marshals to allow for more prosecutions of migration-related offenses. The request would increase funding by $155 million for the U.S. Marshals to detain individuals for migration related offenses, including criminal prosecution for “illegal entry” or “illegal re-entry,” which are the most prosecuted federal crimes and weigh down the entire legal system. Through programs such as “Operation Streamline,” the administration has ratcheted up illegal-entry prosecutions along the southwest border districts, and used the increase in prosecutions to criminalize migration and demonize immigrant communities.
- More funds for CBP detention centers to hold families. The request includes funding for CBP processing centers, used to hold families along the border. The centers are known for deplorable conditions and abuses, leading to children dying in custody. CBP should be moving away from detaining children, and funds should be directed towards alternative housing programs, rather than giving more funds for guards and equipment for inherently dangerous facilities.
The Trump administration demonstrates daily that its approach to migration is rooted in hate and cruelty. This request is just the latest attempt to grab funds outside of the normal budget process, without any plan in place to actually address the human needs of refugees arriving at our border fleeing well-documented human rights abuses. Congress should reject further divestment from our communities and instead call for investment in community-based programming that supports and welcomes asylum seekers and migrants.