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Inappropriate Appropriations: The House Votes to Waste Taxpayer Money on Unnecessary Border and Immigration Enforcement

Chris Rickerd,
Senior Policy Counsel,
ACLU National Political Advocacy Department
Joanne Lin,
Senior Legislative Counsel,
Charanya Krishnaswami,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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May 17, 2012

“Trimming excess.”

That’s how Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, described the committee’s recently released 2013 budget for the Department of Homeland Security. Rogers says the bill, which the committee marked up and passed out of committee yesterday, is “focused on fiscal discipline” and only supports the “most hard-hitting” of DHS’s vast umbrella of programs.

Trimming excess sounds like a great idea in this era of fiscal austerity, but it’s clear that’s not what the bill does for border and immigration enforcement. Take a look at some programs the committee considers “hard-hitting” enough to splurge on – allocating even more funding than requested by DHS:

(1) Bloated Border Enforcement

The committee voted to boost border enforcement spending, including funding for 21,370 Border Patrol agents and 21,186 Customs and Border Protection officers, the largest border forces ever. Border Patrol Agent Christian Sanchez testified last year before the Congressional Transparency Caucus that CBP is betraying taxpayers, saying about his northern border sector that “[t]he spending is to expand bureaucratic turf, not to protect our nation.” Border Patrol apprehensions in 2011 along the Southwest border were at their lowest levels in 40 years. Each migrant apprehension at the border now costs five times more than before, rising from $1,400 in 2005 to over $7,500 in 2011. You call that “fiscal discipline”?

(2) A flawed, outdated and ineffective immigration enforcement program

Since 2009 the broken DHS 287(g) program delegating immigration enforcement authority to state and local police has been audited by the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) and multiple times by the DHS Office of Inspector General (“OIG”). The GAO concluded that DHS had failed to document 287(g) program objectives, supervise state and local law enforcement agencies, or track, collect, and report data. The OIG in 2010 issued a lengthy and critical report setting forth 33 recommendations for DHS to address in order to ensure the program’s integrity, economy, and efficiency. The OIG emphasized that DHS has not shown that “287(g) resources have been focused on aliens who pose the greatest risk to the public.” Unusually, the OIG followed up with two additional reports, adding recommendations because “there is no assurance that funds allocated to the 287(g) program were used as intended.” These reports make clear that 287(g) is unfixable, with systemic problems DHS is unable to tackle. Recognizing the program’s failures, DHS promised in its 2013 budget proposal to scale back 287(g). In the face of this mountain of criticism, however, the House Appropriations Committee threw fiscal conservatism out the window by voting to force DHS to waste $68 million on 287(g). You call that “hard-hitting”?

(3) Superfluous detention beds

Immigration detention is unnecessarily costly to U.S. taxpayers, draining $2 billion this fiscal year. Yet the House Appropriations Committee voted to boost daily immigration detention beds to 34,000 – the highest capacity in history and 1,200 more beds than DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano says she needs to detain an already excessive number of nearly 400,000 people annually. Instead of embracing lower-cost, effective alternatives to detention, which cost about $14/day per person compared with detention’s staggering daily tab of $166/day per person, the committee has doubled down on detention above and beyond DHS’s stated needs. While U.S. taxpayers are pinching their pockets to make every penny count, private for-profit prison companies are reaping the financial benefits of a growing immigration detention business. Half of the immigration detainee population is housed in contract facilities operated by private prison companies that aggressively lobby Congress. You call that “trimming excess”?

Although the House majority has talked up the importance of financial restraint, their DHS appropriations bill reveals a serious dissonance between rhetoric and reality. If Congress is to take seriously the motto of “fiscal discipline,” it should begin by trimming these needless and excessive border and immigration enforcement expenditures.

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