Yesterday, Congress passed the final package of spending bills for the fiscal year that began on October 1, 2018. President Trump signed the package into law earlier today and also declared a national emergency in an effort to find billions more above what Congress approved to spend on border wall construction.
While passage of the spending bills prevented another harmful government shutdown, the package included $1.375 billion for 55 miles of new border walls and an expansion of immigrant detention. Some Democratic members of Congress have said they voted to fund “pedestrian fencing” rather than concrete walls, but the distinction is one of semantics. Whether labeled “walls,” “barriers” or “fences,” these structures wreak havoc on human communities and wildlife in the border region and do nothing to address the root causes of migration. Some Democratic members of Congress have also put out misleading information that there will be a reduction in immigrant detention. The number of detention beds will actually increase for the year (more below).
With his emergency declaration, President Trump plans to use $3.6 billion in military construction funds for border wall construction. He is also expected to transfer $3.1 billion from drug interdiction and drug forfeiture funds, bringing the grand total for new border wall construction to more than $8 billion. Though President Trump has claimed there is a crisis at the border, overall border crossings in recent years have been far lower than historical highs. And, a significant percentage of those arriving at the border today wish to seek asylum but U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers have intentionally slowed down the reception of asylum seekers through the ports, leading many to cross at other points along the border.
Rather than providing funding for more walls and detention facilities, U.S. government policies should address the root causes of migration, including violence, persecution and poverty in migrants’ home countries; create reasonable pathways to legalization for immigrants already in the U.S.; and uphold the right for immigrants to seek asylum, or safety, at our borders.
Additional details on the spending package signed into law on Friday:
- $1.375 billion for 55 miles of additional border fences and walls. Restrictions will exempt some environmentally sensitive areas such as the National Butterfly Center and tracts of the Lower Rio Grande Wildlife Refuge. These protections are bittersweet as hundreds of private landowners and other public spaces will not be protected.
- A 12 percent increase in detention beds. For the past three years, ICE has overspent its appropriated funds to expand the detention system. In this spending bill, ICE is directed to ramp down from its current 49,000 beds to 40,520 beds by the end of September, which still represents a 12% increase for the year (rather than the 17% decrease some members of Congress are claiming). The average daily population will increase from 40,500 in Fiscal Year 2018 to about 45,000 in FY2019. Furthermore, it is unclear whether ICE will actually reduce beds to the lower number, given that there are no new restrictions on transferring funds, as ICE regularly does to detain more immigrants than Congress gives them money to hold.
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): There is no funding for additional ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations agents. However, there is additional funding for ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents, reportedly for victim specialists and opioid/fentanyl investigators. HSI agents often conduct work site raids and it is unclear whether these additional agents could be used in that role (or whether the additional agents could free up existing HSI agents for work site enforcement).
- Border Patrol: FY18 funding provided for 19,350 Border Patrol Agents. Thus far in FY2019, 205 additional agents had been hired, so funding was provided to officially bring the total to 19,555. While an increase, the number of border patrol agents is down from a high of 21,444 agents in 2011.