We Need Common Sense and Humane Solutions
Yesterday, the Trump administration submitted to Congress an emergency spending request for more than a billion dollars for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), even though DHS received record funding through the regular appropriations process just three months ago. The President’s own fact sheet suggests this request is to respond to the “Humanitarian Crisis at the Border.”
Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch and former USCIS Chief Counsel, said: “They claim there is a humanitarian crisis at the border, but out of a total $1.6 billion requested for DHS, only $10 million is for actual humanitarian assistance. Instead of recognizing the challenge we face at the border and addressing it with common sense, effective, and humane solutions, this administration wants more money to continue and grow more failed and inhumane enforcement and military policies for what they call a humanitarian crisis.”
David Leopold, Counsel to DHS Watch, Chair of Immigration at Ulmer & Berne and former President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said: “Don’t forget, when this administration entered office two years ago, border crossings were at a record low. What we had then was a steadily increasing but clearly manageable flow of families seeking asylum. Instead of continuing and growing rational and effective programs started under the previous administration, the Trump administration has been busy ending such programs, replacing them with policies that only exacerbate the issue. So it’s no surprise what we’re seeing today.”
Programs Closed by the Trump Administration That Could Have Addressed the Border Challenge
The Central American Minors (CAM) program enabled young people with strong claims for refugee status to apply in their home countries rather than take the dangerous journey to the border in search of protection. But the Trump administration ended the CAM program.
The previous administration began working with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2016 to set up refugee reception and processing centers in the region, again to obviate the increasing numbers of families seeking asylum at our southern border. But under the Trump administration, those efforts dried up. Just 525 refugees from all of Latin America were resettled in the U.S. in fiscal year 2018. And now the U.S. refugee resettlement program, once heralded by Republicans and Democrats alike, has been virtually dismantled, resettling fewer refugees than ever before.
And now President Trump has ordered the State Department to reprogram funding Congress appropriated that would address the root causes of migration. And this supposed emergency request to address the humanitarian crisis contains not a single dollar to address root causes.
Failures at the Border and Failures in Appropriately Resourcing the Asylum Process
- Metering: At the border, instead of very quickly marshalling resources to bring back order, the Trump administration has instituted “metering” – a process by which asylum applications at ports of entry are limited to low numbers each day, causing many to see no hope for safety but to cross in between ports of entry. Yet, former Secretary of Homeland Security Nielsen and the Border Patrol Chief have repeatedly claimed they want to avoid this.
- Not Enough Judges: The Department of Justice (DOJ) claimed it was running out of money for more judges so needed to process growing asylum claims in a fair and efficient manner. But this supplemental request does not contain a single dollar for judges.
- Poor Infrastructure: By failing to recognize the steadily changing demographic, DHS has not converted its approach and infrastructure to process more asylum applications and address the needs of families completing arduous journeys with few resources. The result of failing to prepare: two children passed away while in CBP custody and releasing people without any way to track and ensure their appearance at immigration hearings. And now the proposed solution in the emergency budget request is $273 million to fund tent cities on the border.
- Not Enough Trained and Experienced Asylum Adjudicators: Instead of rushing trained and experienced USCIS asylum and refugee adjudicators to conduct credible fear interviews, the Trump administration wants $23 million for Border Patrol agents to do credible fear interviews. Why? The President and Stephen Miller assume that would lead to fewer people passing the credible fear test, thereby closing the door on asylum seekers before they have a chance to fairly and fully make their case.
Other Failures in the Emergency Supplemental Request
- Another massive increase in detention beds outside of the normal appropriations cycle ($260 million): Congress was very clear in FY 2019 appropriations bill that ICE should be responsible and stop unchecked over-spending its Congressionally-appropriated money for detention beds. Congress stated that ICE should get on a glidepath to 40,250 beds by the end of FY19. Now ICE wants 51,300 for a daily average of 54,000 beds which is also the FY 2020 bed request to Congress.
- Increase in family detention by 40% ($82 million): Current family detention is funded at 2,500 beds and DHS now wants 960 more notwithstanding a plethora of evidence that even the “safest” forms of detention of families is unsafe and unhealthy, especially for children.
- $155 million for the U.S. Marshals: Prosecutions of asylum seekers for misdemeanor entry in between ports of entry was front and center during the family separation crisis of last summer, eating up DHS, judicial, and the U.S. Marshal’s resources, all at the expense of much more concerning criminal issues. More money for jailing more people prosecuted under these irrational priorities is not a solution.
- $377 million for more unnecessary military support: The growing demographic at the border involves families turning themselves in to seek asylum, not to evade authorities. Yet, this emergency budget request seeks even more money for aerial surveillance and border-related intelligence by the military, an outdated approach to a shrinking demographic of people seeking entry at our southern border.
- $15 million for anti-smuggling and DNA kits: The Trump administration claims that adults are “smuggling” kids as their own children to get into the U.S. But the facts suggest otherwise. This request is a solution in search of a problem.
- $84 million for Border Patrol pay and retention: The Border Patrol has a notorious retention problem. This is clearly not a new or “emergency” issue that needs to be addressed as an emergency, especially since the regular appropriations process just ended three months ago and a new one is well under way.
- $61 million payroll shortfall: DHS has been on a multi-year trajectory of budget increases. Shortfalls should, therefore, be few and far between, especially three months after the end of the regular appropriations process. This $61 million request suggests DHS has mismanaged its priorities and should clean house before making an emergency request to Congress, starting with common sense prosecutorial discretion, greater use of much cheaper and effective alternatives to detention to save money on the unprecedented and massive increases in traditional detention, especially for asylum seekers with no public safety risk.