A Border Patrol agent returns to his vehicle after checking the scene of a brush fire along the Rio Grande in Brownsville, Texas, on April 5, 2017. (Jason Hoekema/The Brownsville Herald via AP)
WASHINGTON – A group of Democratic senators said Congress should reject the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement budget request for FY 2018 and cut the “existing funding levels” for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
“To minimize damage, we need to reduce funding for President Trump’s deportation force and provide no funds for his costly and unnecessary border wall. President Trump pledged to build a deportation force to indiscriminately deport the nation’s undocumented immigrants,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said on a conference call last week held by America's Voice Education Fund.
“Kelly’s DHS has greatly expanded who is considered a priority for enforcement. In May, ICE reported that arrests of individuals with no criminal history was up by 156 percent compared to the same time last year. This has had an outsized impact on California, which is home to one in four of the nation’s immigrants,” she added.
Harris said Trump’s stricter approach to immigration enforcement has contributed to less crime reporting in some American cities such as Los Angeles and Houston.
“This is without question a public safety issue,” she said. “The administration wants taxpayers to support $2.8 billion in new DHS spending to carry out a misguided and harmful enforcement and border strategy while massive cuts are made to other domestic programs, including critical DHS grant programs that help keep our nation safe.”
Harris disagreed with the administration’s $1.5 billion request to pay for additional beds in immigration detention centers.
“We should reject this proposal and instead produce a budget that provides for our safety, our economy and, equally important, supports our values,” she said.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) argued that more detention beds, a border wall and additional ICE agents are a “waste” of taxpayer dollars.
“It's going to send immigrant communities further into the shadows. I think the American people need to know that by asking taxpayers to pay $362 million more to hire and train more ICE and CBP agents, the administration is not focused on removing violent criminals. Rather, it is going to fund the deportation of parents with criminal records and leave United States citizen children without a mom or dad,” he said.
Menendez said the Trump administration should not deport illegal immigrants who have not committed crimes once inside the United States.
“This isn't about going after convicted criminals, because these people haven't been convicted of any crime even with expanded definitions of what is a crime,” he said. “We’re going to fight this tooth and nail.”
He criticized Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan for a comment he made during a House Appropriations Homeland Security subcommittee hearing earlier this month.
“Most of the criminal aliens we find in the interior of the United States, they entered as a non-criminal,” Homan said. “If we wait for them to violate yet another law against a citizen of this country, then it’s too late. We shouldn’t wait for them to become a criminal.”
In response to Homan’s statement, Menendez said Homan “shamelessly said something that should be front-page news if only for its brazen inhumanity.”
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) agreed with Menendez and Harris about reducing the ICE and CBP budgets.
“Their view is that anybody who has already come here undocumented that they have already committed a crime, so no wonder the people in our country who do not have the appropriate documentation are living in fear,” Hirono said.
Hirono, Menendez and Harris, along with other Democratic senators, sent a joint letter to the leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee calling on them to reject Trump’s budget request for more immigration enforcement funding.
“This administration’s immigration policies have been devastating to families, and we as members of Congress have a responsibility to mitigate this harm by reducing the funding that goes toward further attacks on our country’s immigrants and their families,” the letter reads. “We urge you to oppose a costly mass deportation agenda that undermines our public safety, economic well-being, and values.”
The senators emphasized that the current budgets for immigration law enforcement should be cut as a way to stop Trump’s immigration policies.
“Furthermore, we believe that existing funding levels should be reduced in order to limit President Trump’s mass deportation apparatus. ICE arrests of individuals with no criminal conviction have jumped 156 percent and make up a larger share of overall arrests as compared to last year,” the letter read. “DHS should focus its resources on prioritizing actual threats, rather than targeting millions of unauthorized immigrants for removal.”