April 24, 2017

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
317 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer
322 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Speaker Paul Ryan
1233 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi
U.S. Capitol H-204
Washington, D.C. 20515

Re:     Congress Should Reject President Trump’s Supplemental Request for Billions of Dollars of Increased Funding for the Department of Homeland Security and the Dangerous Deportation Force

Dear Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Speaker Ryan, and Leader Pelosi:

I write to urge Congress to reject President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2017 supplemental funding request for an expansion of immigration detention and dramatic increase in the number of agents involved in deportation programs conducted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). President Trump’s proposed expansion of DHS is likely to exacerbate ongoing human rights abuses in the immigration system. Congress should not consider any plan to increase the size and reach of the current system without first taking steps to rein in the abuses that pervade it.

Within the next week, Congress will vote on a Continuing Resolution to keep the federal government operating through September 2017. President Trump has requested that you grant him a $3 billion dollar down payment for more immigrant detention space and additional DHS enforcement agents. Given the way the system works, this funding would result in many more people being locked up unnecessarily and in deplorable conditions. It would also mean deporting many more people without any meaningful consideration of their ties to this country or the impact their removal would have on families and communities that depend on them. This supplemental request for $3 billion dollars would come on top of the more than $40 billion-dollar budget that Congress has appropriated to DHS for the current fiscal year.

Human Rights Watch has spent years documenting DHS’s harsh and ineffective detention and deportation policies and practices. We have analyzed US government records summarizing investigations of the deaths of 18 migrants in the custody of DHS and found subpar medical care contributed to at least seven of those deaths. Just as troubling, our research revealed evidence that dangerous practices appear widespread in some facilities and the government lacks effective means of monitoring and correcting such problems. We have documented how DHS’ indefinite detention of asylum-seeking mothers and their children takes a severe psychological toll that increases trauma, depression and suicidal thoughts. Our investigations at the US-Mexico border have uncovered the devastating impact of illegal entry and reentry prosecutions on American families. We have documented cases where border agents who conducted only cursory screenings of asylum petitions and have thus failed to effectively identify people fleeing serious risks to their lives and safety—a problem DHS appears unable to address effectively. We have analyzed the human rights at stake in several key federal lawsuits, such as in the case of a DHS border patrol agent who shot across the border and killed an unarmed Mexican child. In addition, we have reported on anti-immigrant dragnets in the interior of the United States since Trump’s election that have put due process at grave risk and contributed to a climate of tremendous fear.

We also know that past rapid growth of DHS’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has contributed to the hiring of poorly trained and vetted agents, which, combined with the lack of strong accountability mechanisms within the agency, may have contributed to corruption and abuse within the agency. Adding even more agents without addressing these problems would only compound the problem.

There are better ways to enforce immigration laws than to unnecessarily pack many more people into an already flawed and expensive immigration detention system; or to further increase raids and deportations by agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of people with strong family or other ties to the US. Nothing in President Trump’s supplemental request for billions of taxpayer dollars demonstrates that this Administration is interested in new accountability measures.

Congress should focus on overhauling immigration detention, using it only when absolutely necessary—many, perhaps most, immigrants in the system are not flight risks and pose no danger to society. It should require that, prior to deportation, immigration courts take into account the family and other ties that immigrants may have in this country, and weigh those against the arguments for removal. And it should increase oversight of CBP and ICE agents, ensuring accountability for abuses.

Meanwhile, we urge Congress to pass a Continuing Resolution that keeps the federal government open and rejects President Trump’s multi-billion-dollar request to ramp up his anti-immigrant agenda.

Sincerely,

Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno
Co-Director, US Program
Human Rights Watch