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If Congress cares about ending family separation, why do they keep paying for it?


This week, the House Appropriations Committee voted to advance an appropriations bill that includes $17.8 billion for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and $7.4 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These dramatic proposed funding increases – which combined are $4.1 billion more than last year’s funding – come amid massive public outcry against the separation of families at the border, detention of asylum seekers, rampant human rights violations by both agencies, and a cruel and sweeping crackdown on immigrants across the country.

Just two weeks ago, less than four miles from where the vote took place, at least 15 DC residents were rounded up and detained in their homes or on the streets in a series of raids conducted by ICE. The raids drew protest and criticism from hundreds of neighborhood residents, as well as D.C.’s Attorney General. In one raid, up the street from the White House, witnesses report that agents racially profiled and then indiscriminately detained people on the street, and lied to get people to open their doors.

{mosads}These raids are emblematic of ICE’s destructive practices. Across the country, thousands of people are being rounded up in their homes and workplaces, torn away from their families and communities, and funneled into an inhumane detention and deportation system.

And Congress wants to make that system bigger.

The House bill includes $78 million to hire over 400 additional ICE officers and support staff, and $4.1 billion for detention and removal programs. It would increase the number of detention beds to a record high of 44,000, which would mean nearly 375,000 immigrants jailed next year. And it includes $5 billion for over 200 miles of border wall construction, despite widespread public opposition.

The Senate bill – which passed out of the Appropriations Committee in June – includes similar funding increases, including $14.3 billion for CBP and $7.21 billion for ICE.

These are more than just numbers. This is an astronomically high taxpayer-funded investment in brutality. According to recently released data from the Office of the Inspector General, thousands of migrants have faced sexual abuse in ICE custody over the last decade. In FY17 alone, 12 people died in ICE custody – in part due to lack of access to adequate medical care. And hundreds of thousands of people suffer at the hands of ICE every year as they are separated from loved ones, detained, and deported.

The agency has been impervious to oversight. Congress has repeatedly signaled to ICE that it must improve detention standards and rein in chronic fiscal mismanagement, but has been repeatedly ignored.

CBP has a similarly dismal track record, including the abuse of children, and the frequent use of deadly force. And most recently, CBP has faced criticism from across the political spectrum for their role in separating children from their parents at the border.

So why does Congress want to give these agencies more money?

It’s certainly not to keep us safer. Abusing children, separating families, and engaging in racial profiling only destabilizes communities and directs resources away from what we know actually creates safety and security – education, jobs, health care, social services and environmental protections.

It’s not because the public supports these policies – according to a recent poll, only 38 percent of people view ICE positively. Hundreds of thousands across the country have protested recent actions by ICE and CBP. And a large and growing movement is calling for the abolition of ICE in its entirety.

One explanation for Congress’s behavior is the money. Several members of Congress who voted to pass these bills receive large campaign contributions from the same private prison companies who stand to make billions off detaining migrants.

But perhaps the biggest explanation is also the simplest. Congress keeps funding these agencies because they can get away with it.

Politicians are quick to speak out against family separation and decry abuses, but claim their hands are tied when it comes to taking action. As these appropriations bills make their way towards a full vote, we need to make it abundantly clear to our elected officials that this excuse isn’t going to work.

This week, six members of the House Appropriations Committee were visited by leaders from United We Dream who danced through their offices asking, “Congress, do you love me? Are you defunding?” As the House prepares to go on recess and face their constituents back home, will they show their love for human rights and our communities, or further fund the forces tearing loved ones apart?

If it’s the latter, it’s imperative that we hold those representatives accountable. And with elections just around the corner, Congress would do well to listen.

Kathryn Johnson is the Policy Advocacy Coordinator with the American Friends Service Committee’s Office of Public Policy and Advocacy. She coordinates the organization’s policy work on immigration, trade, and U.S. engagement with Latin America. Follow her at @KatJohnsonDC 

Tags CBP Customs and Border Protection ICE

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