November 6, 2019
There is an upcoming battle over the budget of the Department of Homeland Security that will pivot on immigration policy. The House and the Senate each have appropriation bills in place, but on the issue of immgration, especially immigrant detention, the bills are miles apart.
The House bill would reduce the daily average of people detained to 34,000 (it was 50,000 in October this year). The House leadership is also looking to regain control over the budget process; seeking to both cut the detention budget back to where it was a few years ago, and limit the administration’s ability to move money around. (As we discussed last week, in August of 2019, the Trump administration went well over budget for detention, moving money around from other accounts in order to pay for its over-spending).
The House budget proposal from Committee is not something overall we would support. However, there are elements of the bill that are important to lift up. From the narrative report (pp 5-6) on the House bill (ADP = Average Daily Population):
ICE has routinely ignored congressional intent by exceeding its funded ADP, requiring funding transfers from other departmental compo- nents in fiscal year 2018 to prevent it from going anti-deficient. In fiscal year 2019, ICE has again failed to live within its means, an outcome that can only be partially explained by an increase in single adults apprehended by CBP at the southern land border…
Congress provides transfer authority in the Department’s annual funding bill to give it flexibility in responding to unforeseen events and circumstances, not to routinely augment appropriated funding levels. The Administration’s increasing defiance of congressional intent, as expressed in appropriated funding levels, cannot continue…
The Committee recommendation includes funding to support an overall ADP for single adults of 34,000 during fiscal year 2020, equivalent to the ADP funded by Congress between fiscal years 2012 and 2017. This total includes an ADP of 17,000 for single adults arrested in the interior and 17,000 for single adults trans- ferred to ICE custody by CBP; no transfer authority is provided that would allow ICE to exceed this ADP. Because the number of single adults transferred from CBP custody is not within ICE control, however, a contingency mechanism is included in the bill to give ICE access to additional funds in response to a significant in- crease in the volume of single adults so transferred. This approach is intended to reclaim the authority of Congress to determine funding levels for immigration detention, while also providing flexibility to the Department to manage circumstances beyond its control.
Meanwhile, the Senate is caving into administration demands to hold a daily average of 52,000 people, with no limits on transfer authority.
Cutting current detention numbers to 34,000 from the 50,000 in October may seem like a huge cut - it is. And absolutely necessary. As of October 28, there were 49,419 people held by ICE. Of these, 12,488 immigrants in custody were determined by USCIS to have a Persecution Claim Established or Torture Claim Established. By simply releasing through humanitarian parole those asylum seekers who have passed through the first phase of determining their case, the daily detention rate would fall to 37,000. We would argue that none of the remaining people should be in detention either - but certainly members of Congress should be able to agree that people who have established a torture claim and are seeking asylum should not be behind bars...right?
The only way to force the administration’s hand is to cut its budget.
With that in mind, next week we are joining in with other members of the Detention Watch Network to tell congress to #DefundHate. On November 13, a week from today, there will be a national call-in day to Congress demanding cuts to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Custom and Border Patrol budgets, and Congressional limits placed on the ability of the Department of Homeland Security’s ability to shift money around to pay for unauthorized expenses.
So save the date, tell some friends and be ready to join in a national action next Wednesday to shut down Trump's detention machine.