In a joint statement, four of the most progressive women in Congress voiced their intent to vote against a spending package to keep the federal government open over concerns that gives too much money to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — an agency that has historically mismanaged funds to aid President Donald Trump’s detention and deportation machine.
“The Department of Homeland Security has separated thousands of children from their parents, denied asylum to those fleeing danger, and used taxpayers’ dollars as a slush fund to incite terror in immigrant communities,” Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) wrote. “The efficacy of a government agency must be determined by assessing ‘outcomes.’ By any reasonable measure, Donald Trump’s weaponization of ICE and CBP has been a failure. The Department of Homeland Security does not deserve an increase in funding, and that is why we intend to vote no on this funding package.”
“We want to be abundantly clear: this is not a rebuke of federal workers or those who depend on the services they provide, but a rejection of the hateful policies, priorities, and rhetoric of the Trump Administration,” they added.
Their concessions come as President Trump is reportedly poised to sign the bill and simultaneously declare a national emergency at the southern border in the hopes of bypassing Congress to secure additional funding for his vanity wall.
Over the last week, most Republican and Democratic lawmakers have come to a consensus on the sweeping spending bill, which includes $1.37 billion for President Trump’s border wall and an 11 percent increase in the number of beds at detention facilities, allowing for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain an additional 5,000 people per day.
Through Fiscal Year 2018, Congress set a limit of 40,500 detention beds for ICE. Despite this, ICE has made a habit of detaining far more than this number during the Trump administration, running to Congress for more money whenever they see fit. As of February 6, 2019, 49,057 immigrants were in ICE detention. Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, Omar, and Tlaib believe that giving DHS even a single dollar more in funding would be rewarding an agency that has been rounding up non-criminal undocumented immigrants at an unprecedented rate and with little discretion.
Like some of the more progressive members of Congress, immigration activist groups are similarly disappointed by the compromise bill.
“It is unconscionable to give in to the President’s demands at the expense of immigrant communities across the country,” wrote Christina Fiahlo, the co-founder and executive director at Freedom for Immigrants, in a statement. “The current deal as it stands would not rein in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) nor cut the detention population significantly. It is merely a slap on the wrist, which actually condones ICE’s pattern of overspending and mismanaging tax dollars that led to this situation in the first place. To make matters worse, Democrats are appropriating funds to build a wall that is completely unnecessary and will further militarize our border.”
Javier Valdes, co-executive director of Make the Road NY, a grassroots immigration group, told The Intercept, “There’s been a national conversation about the role of ICE and detention, and folks expected we’d see something that actually decreased the level of detention and came with actual oversight. It’s not just about the wall. It’s the other enforcement mechanisms and the impact they’re having on our communities on a day-to-day basis.”
Progressive members of Congress and immigration activists have good reason to be wary of allocating more funds to DHS agencies. Both ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have a poor track record of managing their funding.
As was first reported by Sen. Jeff Merkley’s (D-OR) office in September, DHS redirected an extra $169 million away from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help pay for detaining and removing undocumented immigrants. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar diverted roughly $266 million in funding originally allocated for programs like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in order to pay for the growing number of detained immigrant children.
The compromise bill isn’t all bad news, however. While it does include over a million dollars for the border wall, it also places some restrictions on where it can be built. It provides some health care funding for CBP and ICE as well, which was suggested by some members of Congress in the wake of the deaths of two children in CBP custody who lacked medical attention that could have possibly saved their lives.