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Making Sense of DHS Funding Debate: Why Congressional Oversight of DHS and ICE is Critically Needed

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“Moving forward, House Democrats must address ICE’s impunity and lies and remember that every ‘detention bed’ on a budget ledger is a human life.”– Pili Tobar, Deputy Director

The implications of the DHS funding deal to keep the government open – in particular the detention beds and related nuances – are both confusing and important. Here are a few key points to keep in mind:

  • Despite some initial media mischaracterizations, the proposed funding deal would fund an annual average daily population of 45,274 detention beds – this is a 12% increase for immigration detention, compared to the FY 2018 number of 40,500, and much higher than ever before. In FY 2016, Congress funded 34,000 detention beds.
  • Some of the confusion over the numbers, and whether it represents an increase or decrease, is due to the currently detained population total of 49,057 – far above what ICE is actually permitted to spend under the Continuing Resolution that expires on February 15. The key number to pay attention to is the annual average daily population total, which dictates ICE’s spending for the entire fiscal year – and which ICE has repeatedly manipulated in order to allow them to increase incarceration for immigrants to unprecedented levels. (also see Dara Lind of Vox with a good explainer on the nuances and implications of the detention bed debate).

But beyond the specific numbers, the broader takeaway is this: DHS Secretary Nielsen has repeatedly lied about the workings of her agency: ICE is a rogue agency that needs to be reined in and held accountable and detention bed increases are a signal that the Trump administration is engaged in mass incarceration of tens if not hundreds of thousands of hardworking men, women and children who have often lived and worked here for years and have committed no crimes. The Department of Homeland Security under President Trump and Sec. Nielsen engages in indiscriminate deportations, has eliminated common-sense enforcement priorities and is lying and shading the truth to paint most immigrants as dangerous criminals.

According to Pili Tobar, Deputy Director of America’s Voice:

At a time when immigrant children and families are being separated and detained at our southern border, the last thing we should be doing is giving ICE additional funds for detention beds. ICE is a rogue agency that overspends beyond the amount Congress appropriates for them every year and constantly violates our country’s values.

This is an agency desperate need of additional oversight and reform, and upcoming appropriations battles and oversight hearings should reflect this key priority. Moving forward, House Democrats must address ICE’s impunity and lies and remember that every ‘detention bed’ on a budget ledger is a human life. Under current policies, people will be detained by ICE with no prioritization and pulled from their families and communities, for no reason beyond fulfilling Trump’s cruel deportation agenda.

Despite years of demonization and Trump’s unrelenting obsession over the border wall, the American people are moving away from the President on immigration and the wall. The more the President speaks, the more the majority reject his agenda and becoming more pro-immigrant. The debate has changed, and we should recognize that the nation is starting to discuss in a meaningful way why and how we detain tens of thousands of people everyday in for-profit and government prisons. Congress must ensure that the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t get a blank check without accountability. Appropriations battles to come should recognize that a reduction in the detention bed numbers and aggressive action to rein in ICE are top priorities for a common sense immigration system that lives up to our values and interests.