One-hundred and seventy five immigrant and civil rights organizations sent a letter today to congressional appropriators urging them to reject the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) latest request for new funding to further expand the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention system.
“Over the past two years DHS has persistently overspent its detention budget, confident that Congress will permit regular infusions of funds through reprogramming and transfers,” the letter, signed by the National Immigrant Justice Center, Detention Watch Network and other local, regional, and national groups, tells House and Senate appropriations committee members. “By meeting this expectation, Congress has essentially given DHS the power to write its own appropriation by using its inflated detention budget as the starting point for each subsequent spending negotiation. This cycle must end.”
For the second time since Congress approved ICE’s biggest detention budget ever in March, the agency is demanding even more money. Less than six months ago, Congress approved more than $4 billion to jail an average of 40,500 immigrants daily in its final fiscal year 2018 budget bill. With one month left in the fiscal year, ICE has exceeded that capacity and is holding as many as 45,000 immigrants behind bars at a time. This summer, congressional appropriators approved a transfer request of more than $200 million from other DHS agencies to cover this over-spending.
NIJC recently obtained documentation showing that the transfer approved by Congress pulled funding from other component parts of DHS, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Transportation Security Administration’s aviation safety programming, the U.S. Coast Guard, and ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations.
Now, facing the possibility of a continuing resolution for fiscal year 2019, DHS is yet again angling to increase its detention budget through back-door procedures that circumvent normal order. While continuing resolutions are intended to maintain funding levels from one year to the next, ICE is eyeing a special request known as an “anomaly” that would permit the agency to continue jailing thousands more immigrants on a daily basis than flat-line continued funding would permit.
ICE has a long track record of human rights abuses in its jails. This summer, one-and-a-half-year old Mariee Juarez died shortly after her release from ICE’s South Texas Family Residential Center, and a complaint filed on her behalf asserts her death was a direct result of her time in immigration detention. ICE also has a history of lying to Congress about its actions. Most recently, the agency missed its first three deadlines for reporting to Congress about what detention facilities it uses to hold immigrants, only to finally release a list riddled with error and deception.
Congress must take action to hold DHS accountable for its fiscally irresponsible actions which fuel a detention system that destroys lives and families every day.
Heidi Altman, director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center, and Mary Small, policy director at the Detention Watch Network, commented on DHS’s latest manipulation of the budget process to lock up immigrants:
“Human rights abuses are central to this administration’s formal immigration policy. DHS leadership continues to defend the horrors we witnessed on the border this summer. People are dying in immigration jails, and families are torn apart every day because of militarized immigration enforcement in our communities. Now is the time to strangle ICE of funds, not plump it up with special bonus appropriations and infusions of funds. We look to Congress to engage in meaningful oversight of the executive, not to reward cruelty,” Altman said.
“For too long, our representatives have said they care about immigrant communities while simultaneously funding aggressive immigration enforcement and deadly immigration jails. Congress can and should act as a check on Trump’s runaway deportation machine, starting with rejecting the request for additional detention funds in the continuing resolution,” Small said.