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Congressional Hispanic Caucus Demands Reduction In Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 DHS Funding – Opposes Expansion of Immigration Detention Efforts

Sep 14, 2018
Press Release
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-01), Chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and members of CHC leadership sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader McConnell, Speaker Ryan, Chairman Shelby, and Chairman Freilinghuysen calling for a reduction in funding for DHS’s harmful immigration enforcement infrastructure including detention beds, ICE and Border Patrol agents, and border militarization. 
The letter was also signed by Congressional Hispanic Caucus First Vice Chair Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20); Second Vice Chair Congressman Ruben Gallego (AZ-07); Whip Congressman Pete Aguilar (CA-31) and Freshman Representative Congressman Adriano Espaillat (NY-13). 
Full text of the letter follows and can be found here.
September 14, 2018
Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Speaker Ryan, Chairman Shelby, Chairman Frelinghuysen:
We write to you as negotiations regarding funding for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 continue, to urge you to reduce funding for DHS’s harmful immigration enforcement infrastructure, including for detention beds, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Border Patrol agents, and border militarization. More specifically, as a Continuing Resolution (CR) for DHS becomes increasingly likely as we approach the end of FY18, we write to share our urgent concern and opposition to the inclusion of an anomaly for immigration detention that would allow ICE to operate a detention system far larger than what was agreed upon in the FY18 omnibus.
Like many of you, we are concerned about multi-year fiscal mismanagement within ICE, and specifically within the Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) account, which has allowed funding for immigration detention and enforcement to jump by nearly one billion dollars in the past two years, from $3.212 billion in fiscal year 2016 to $4.110 billion in fiscal year 2018.[1] We echo the bipartisan language from the FY17 omnibus which expressed concern about the “lack of fiscal discipline and cavalier management of funding to detention operations” which “seems to be the result of a perception that ERO is funded by an indefinite appropriation.”[2] 
Over the past two years ICE has repeatedly overspent its detention budget with the clear expectation that Congress would allow transfers and reprogramming of funds. In the most recent transfer and reprogramming request, DHS moved over $200 million into the detention and removal account, including money intended for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection border operations, and Homeland Security Investigations.[3] By refusing to curb this behavior, Congress is basically allowing the agency to essentially write its own appropriation. 
In March, Congress funded Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain an average of 40,500 people per day for FY18, yet as we approach the end of the fiscal year, ICE is holding more than 45,000 people in its sprawling network of detention facilities.[4] Indeed, in complete disregard for the agreed-upon congressionally mandated funding level for detention, ICE has signed numerous highly controversial contracts in recent months, in order to expand its detention capacity. These include reopening the infamous Willacy Detention Facility (now renamed El Valle Detention Center),[5] despite both ICE and the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) pulling out of previous contracts at the facility because of uninhabitable conditions.[6]
ICE also recently signed agreements to hold people in ICE custody in five Bureau of Prison facilities, including several hundred mothers and fathers who had been forcibly separated from their children under the Zero Tolerance Policy.[9] In addition to enabling the implementation of this cruel and unnecessary policy, these agreements are part of ICE’s systemic overspending and have placed additional strain on BOP facilities already using augmentation, the controversial practice of tapping civilian employees to fill vacant guard posts.[10] 
In addition to wasting taxpayer dollars and undermining Congressional intent, the current immigration detention system and its expansion carries an extreme human cost. In recent months, the DHS Inspector General found that conditions inside ICE’s jails “undermine the protection of detainees’ rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment”[11] and in a separate report found the inspections regime to be completely inadequate and ineffective, with facilities regularly passing their inspections despite serious deficiencies.[12] The severity of these reports is highlighted by recent findings that more than half of all deaths in detention are attributable to violations of medical standards.[13]
In a potential continuing resolution for DHS, we strongly urge you to reject the anomaly for immigration detention and to instead explicitly preclude DHS from expanding detention above agreed-upon levels for fiscal year 2018. 
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.     
CHC Leadership
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