U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is aggressively lobbying for an additional $1 billion to boost deportations to their highest levels yet under President Donald Trump, according to a budget document obtained by The Washington Post.
The agency urged Congress last month to include the extra funds in a stopgap spending measure that lawmakers must pass to avoid a government shutdown when the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1.
On Thursday, congressional leaders from both political parties agreed to postpone a fight over Trump’s plan for building a border wall until after the November elections. The deal would keep the government open using a series of spending bills, including a “continuing resolution” that would fund federal agencies through Dec. 7. ICE asked Congress to include the $1 billion increase in the continuing resolution.
In the funding request, officials said they anticipated deporting more than 253,000 immigrants during the next fiscal year, which goes from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, 2019. That would be the government’s highest target since 2014, when the Obama administration expelled more than 300,000.
Recent statistics show the administration is on track this year to deport substantially more than the 226,000 immigrants deported in 2017, though final numbers won’t be available for several weeks. Officials are deporting roughly 20,000 immigrants a month, and had expelled more than 191,000 as of June 30.
Without the extra money, officials warned in the request, they may be forced to suspend arrests and deportations of people deemed”threats to public safety” until Congress passes a full spending bill. Officials also said that thousands of immigrants detained in federal custody may suffer “reductions in services” if Congress denies the funding, though they did not provide specifics.
Katie Waldman, spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman, said the proposed $1 billion increase mirrors the agency’s budget request for fiscal 2019.
“If the Congress approves the request, ICE would have the funding for operations necessary to support and increase staffing and operations as the DHS Secretary determines to be appropriate,” Waldman said in a statement.
Democrats have been sharply critical of ICE’s spending and are unlikely to provide the votes needed to approve such a sizable increase. But officials and advocates say the request is a sign that the Trump administration is forging ahead with his hard-line immigration platform and will use it to rally support for Republican candidates in the November midterm elections.
A CNN poll in August found that 77 percent of registered voters said immigration would be “very” or “extremely” important in deciding which candidate to vote for in November, trailing only the economy and health care.
In the request, immigration officials said they need the extra money to cover rising costs associated with arrests and deportations. Officials saythis year they’ve detainedan average of 43,000 immigrants a day, slightly more than Congress authorized in the current budget.
Advocates for immigrants urged Congress to deny the additional funding, saying ICE has been scolded by fiscal watchdogs for pastcost overruns. Typically, they say, stopgap spending measures maintain agencies’ funding to keep operations going.
“It’s outrageous,” said Mary Small, policy director of Detention Watch Network, which opposes immigration detention. “It’s really disappointing to see them leaning into this kind of fearmongering.”
Trump praised immigration and border agents at the White House last month amid calls from some Democrats to abolish ICE. “My pledge to each of you is that my administration will not rest until you have the resources, the tools, and the authorities you need to do your job, and do it properly and do it strong,” he said. “You’re saving lives.”
The administration says its top priority remains deporting criminals, but ICE and other immigration agencies are increasingly under fire for targeting immigrants with nocriminal records and for splitting up families at the border without a plan to reunite them.
About 44 percent of those deported as of June 30 had no criminal records, according to data maintained by ICE.
The ICE funding request comes weeks after the Department of Homeland Security notified congressional subcommittees that it would move roughly $200 million to ICE from the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other DHS agencies. The transfer of nearly $10 million from FEMA ignited public outrage as the southeastern United States braces for a powerful hurricane, Florence, and the likelihood of a costly response and cleanup effort.
Officials said the money was pulled from accounts that fund office supplies and other expenses – not from FEMA’s disaster relief fund. DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton called protests a “sorry attempt to push a false agenda.”
DHS records show that money transfers to ICE from FEMA and other Homeland Security agencies reduced funding for federal air marshals, screening dogs at airports, armored cars for federal investigators overseas, border security and E-Verify, which checks whether workers have legal papers. A small amount – less than $40,000 – was also diverted from “counter terrorism” operations, according to a copy of the 39-page document DHS sent congressional appropriators in June notifying them of the transfers, which went through in August.
DHS has said immigration officials needed the money because of the rising numbers of arrests and deportations, including “special high-risk charter flights” to nations that had previously refused to accept detainees.
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Maria Sacchetti