“First, ICE has rapidly expanded the immigration detention system, which now sprawls across more than 200 private prisons, county jails, and detention centers,” senators write to the Senate Committee on Appropriations and the Subcommittee on Homeland Security Committee on Appropriations. “This massive expenditure of taxpayer dollars is excessive and unnecessary.” Contrary to right-wing lies, most immigrants show up to court, and historically low detention numbers during the pandemic showed that ICE can perfectly well let people pursue their cases from their homes. Instead of building up ICE, there should be investments in humane alternatives that keep people out of detention.
Yet, ICE is again detaining huge numbers of immigrants, nearly double from April. And as the detention numbers have risen, so have the infections. This was completely preventable. “Moreover, as of May 7, 2021, ICE still had no clear plan to secure COVID-19 vaccines or provide vaccines for individuals in custody in detention centers,” legislators said. “In addition, ICE continues to face scrutiny for medical neglect in immigration detention, and ICE has not implemented an effective case review process for the people in detention at grave risk in detention.”
“Second, over the past two decades, ICE and CBP officer funding has increased dramatically,” legislators continued. “Since 2003, the number of Border Patrol agents has doubled and the number of ICE officers has tripled. DHS continues to request increased funding for CBP and ICE enforcement.” American Immigration Council noted last year that ICE’s spending had nearly tripled since the agency’s creation in 2003, from $3.3 billion, to $8.3 billion. CBP’s spending also ballooned, from $5.9 billion, to $17.7 billion.
That’s more than $26 billion to help fund horrific anti-immigrant and human rights abuses, from the forcible separation of families at the southern border, the walling off of asylum law at the southern border, the raiding of a humanitarian medical camp in that region, and a public health disaster within ICE’s prisons—and that’s just in the past couple years. Even when Congress explicitly labeled funds for humanitarian use, CBP violated law by spending it on dirt bikes. Then, CBP sought to destroy its records. Seriously. ICE and CBP have very clearly shown how throwing more resources and funding at something doesn’t always make it better.
“The FY 2022 DHS appropriations should significantly scale back ICE and CBP enforcement budgets and refocus that funding on building a culture of accountability within the agencies,” legislators continued. “Immigration enforcement in the United States has become dangerously militarized, as illustrated by the former administration sending border patrol agents with SWAT-style training to our communities, sending the military to the border, and border wall construction. Surveillance programs deployed to the border region must also be approached with caution.”
What should be built up is capability to adjudicate paperwork like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) applications. While 50,000 young immigrants have applied for the first time since the program was reopened late last year, fewer than 800 have been approved. Others trying to renew have been dealt months-long delays, risking their jobs and livelihoods. “Folks are still interested in & applying for DACA, which means the program remains a success,” attorney Karen Tumlin tweeted. “But it’ll only continue to be successful if DHS prioritizes processing applications in a timely fashion.”
“The FY 2022 Homeland Security Appropriations bill represents a unique opportunity for Congress to support immigrant communities and roll back the worst of the policies from the prior administration,” legislators conclude. “Congress must be explicit in its provision of funds for the kind of transformative change that is needed to repair and build an immigration system that is centered around community and welcoming, not on tearing families apart, undermining community safety, and destabilizing communities and workplaces through punitive enforcement measures.”