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Congress, Don't Throw More Money at Donald Trump’s Weaponized Department of Homeland Security

ICE Agents in V formation in front of a painter american flag
ICE Agents in V formation in front of a painter american flag
Chris Rickerd,
Senior Policy Counsel,
ACLU National Political Advocacy Department
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September 5, 2018

As summer ends, the country’s political eyes are focusing even more intently on midterm elections. Although a new Congress is not far away, there remain major budgetary issues to resolve. The most immediate deadline for people concerned about President Trump’s immigration policies is September 30, when fiscal year 2018 ends.

For the Department of Homeland Security, reports suggest that both parties prefer to postpone debating a new budget until after the midterms, although President Trump has on occasion threatened a government shutdown if he doesn’t get billions of dollars for immigration enforcement including more of his border wall. The ACLU’s position is clear: Congress must not reward DHS’ grossly abusive immigration enforcement with more resources to tear more families apart and to keep building a harmful, wasteful monument to Trump’s xenophobia.

After a year filled with DHS-inflicted trauma on separated children, continuing Border Patrol violence and racial profiling, plus rampant Immigration and Customs Enforcement cruelty and deportation excesses, the only discussion in Congress should be about how much spending to cut from these ill-performing, family-destroying DHS components.

Yet both the House and Senate homeland security budget bills would enable DHS with more resources. The House version adds more than 400 ICE personnel and allocates $5 billion for Trump’s wall folly, while the Senate version includes 375 new Border Patrol agents and $1.6 billion for wall construction. Neither bill reduces the obscene and unnecessary spending level for immigration jails.

The House committee vote split along party lines, but Democrats were divided in the Senate committee despite denunciations like Sen. Tom Udall’s (D-N.M.), who criticized the border fence as “a waste of money” and called attention to the children “cruelly separated from their parents” by the president and still awaiting reunion.

It’s now up to the full House and Senate, especially party leadership, to reject these committee votes and deny DHS more funding. Three financial aphorisms lay out why:

Follow the Money

Taxpayer dollars are the lifeblood of Trump’s deportation machine. For years DHS’s immigration enforcement budget has grown without adequate scrutiny, exceeding the budgets of the FBI, DEA, Secret Service, and all other federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined. Since 1986, about $300 billion has gone to federal immigration enforcement, leading to concerns about excessive border-security spending even before Trump.

“It is a sort of a mini industrial complex syndrome that has set in there,” former House Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) warned back in 2012. “And we’re going to have to guard against it every step of the way.”

These days, all caution has been thrown to the wind. Prior administrations, at least, sometimes balanced family unity and ties to the United States against deportation. Trump’s ICE and Customs and Border Protection, on the other hand, have made separating families their goal. DHS is also allowing private prison companies to profit from enforcement, in the words of the Migration Policy Institute, by asking for vast expansions of immigration jail beds despite using current facilities to imprison asylum seekers illegally and subject families with children to harmful detention.

DHS conducts out-of-control enforcement because its budget reins and oversight haven’t been held tightly by Congress. Every year, ICE and CBP keep pushing the limits of their budget — often receiving record levels of funding from Congress. What incentive does DHS have to comport with the Constitution if Congress annually rewards the agency with billions of dollars despite rampant abuses?

There is no clearer report card to send a department like DHS than reducing its budget in response to immoral, unconstitutional policies and actions.

Don’t Throw Good Billions After Bad

The Government Accountability Office monitors whether taxpayer funds are being properly spent. In a devastatingly critical report last month, GAO concluded that:

“DHS plans to spend billions of dollars developing and deploying new barriers along the southwest border. However, by proceeding without key information on cost, acquisition baselines, and the contributions of previous barrier and technology deployments, DHS faces an increased risk that the Border Wall System Program will cost more than projected, take longer than planned, or not fully perform as expected.”

Trump’s rhetorical frenzies are fueling border wall construction, not reality.

To appease Trump, this Congress has already allocated more than $2 billion toward wall building and yet hasn’t even received a required DHS report on the $1.6 billion in construction approved in March. The wall’s wastefulness hasn’t gone unnoticed in Congress.

“Since DHS picked locations for the President’s wall before taking into account effectiveness or cost, any more spending on Trump’s wall would be a giant waste of taxpayer money and may not provide any measurable security benefit,” House Homeland Security Ranking Member Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said, reacting to the GAO’s findings. “I urge my colleagues to read this report before allowing another dime be spent on the President’s pet project and costly boondoggle.”

The Buck Stops Here

Rep. Thompson is right that his colleagues bear ultimate responsibility for DHS’ budget, so all of us must make one thing clear to Congress: Giving Trump’s DHS billions more in enforcement resources for the president’s cruel detention and deportation machine is unacceptable.

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