Re: White House’s Request for Increased Immigration Funding 

Dear Members of Congress:

I write on behalf of Human Rights Watch to urge you to reject the White House’s request for additional funding for immigration detention and abusive border policies.[1] This request, coming only ten weeks after US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) received significant budget increases in the final fiscal year 2019 appropriations, is unwarranted when the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has repeatedly failed to use its resources in rights-respecting ways.

There is a massive and ongoing failure by the US government to respect the human rights of migrants and to appropriately process those who are exercising their right to seek asylum. The White House’s funding request for $4.5 billion would not effectively address this crisis, but would double-down on ineffective, deterrence-only measures that ignore the US government’s real obligations under US and international law.

The White House request includes:

  • $342 million to fund 51,300 detention beds;
  • $82 million to increase the detention of families at the Dilley Family Residential Center,
  • $2.8 billion to double the capacity of the Office of Refugee Resettlement at US Health and Human Services (ORR) to detain unaccompanied children;
  • $391 million for “humanitarian assistance,” which includes funding for increased construction of CBP detention centers;
  • $377 million for the Department of Defense, National Guard for logistical and administrative, aerial surveillance and other border-related intelligence support to CBP and;
  • $155 million for increased detention of non-citizens in federal criminal custody, presumably for Operation Streamline and other prosecutions of illegal entry and reentry.

The existing immigration detention system, which is already detaining a record high of 50,000 people a day (above the current budget’s provisions), has been proven again and again to be incapable of keeping safe the immigrants who are already in custody.[2] Every existing and additional immigration detention bed means one more person at risk of suffering due to harsh conditions[3] and inadequate medical care[4] provided by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Family detention is known to have devastating, long-lasting consequences.[5] Two whistleblowers,[6] the US government’s own medical consultants, have reported a “high risk of harm” to migrant children housed at family detention facilities.

Conditions in existing CBP processing centers are known to be abusive and traumatizing,[7] including for children. Questions about this administration’s disturbing surveillance of journalists and attorneys at the border remain unanswered.[8] The administration’s prior efforts to ramp-up federal prosecutions of migrants led to horrific family separations,[9] Even without  an official family separation policy, such prosecutions imperil the due process and other rights of migrants.[10]

The Trump administration has dramatically extended the amount of time migrant children spend detained in Office of Refugee Resettlement facilities as it pursues sponsors who come forward to care for children for deportation. [11] Last week, a 16-year old boy from Guatemala died while detained at a large congregant care facility in Texas.[12] Pediatricians who have treated migrant children who were held in the ORR system have raised concerns that these facilities are providing inadequate medical care.[13] Thousands of children in ORR custody have reported sexual abuse.[14]

Yet the Trump administration thinks the ongoing humanitarian and human rights crisis at the southern border can be met by providing even more funding to these abusive agencies and policies, without putting in place fundamental reforms and ramped-up oversight these agencies require.

Increased funding may be needed and appropriate, if spent for the right purpose. We support allocating funds for hiring immigration judges and providing know-your-rights services;[15] ensuring counsel for noncitizens whose due process rights are threatened in immigration proceedings including children and vulnerable groups such as persons with mental disabilities;[16] requiring transparency in data collection and dissemination;[17] creating effective accountability mechanisms within DHS and its component agencies; improving detention conditions and expanding community-based programs as an alternative to detention,[18] and providing sufficient resources for appropriate medical care. However, without a clear commitment by this administration and this Congress to appropriate first to these types of activities, there should at the very least not be any increase in appropriations for enforcement and detention.

We call on you to reject any increase in funding that will exacerbate serious rights violations in the existing immigration enforcement system, and instead take steps to ensure enhance transparency, due process, accountability, and fair treatment of all people subject to DHS jurisdiction.

Sincerely,

Jasmine L. Tyler
Advocacy Director
US Program, Human Rights Watch

Addressed to: 

Chairperson Richard Shelby
United States Senate Committee on Appropriations

Ranking Member Patrick Leahy
United States Senate Committee on Appropriations

Chairperson Nita Lowey
United States House Committee on Appropriations

Ranking Member Kay Granger
United States House Committee on Appropriations 

Chairperson Shelley Moore Capito
United States Senate Committee on Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee

Ranking Member Jon Tester 
United States Senate Committee on Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee

Chairperson Lucille Roybal-Allard
United States House Committee on Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee

Ranking Member Chuck Fleischmann
United States House Committee on Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
United States Senate 

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer
United States Senate 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi
United States House of Representatives

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy
United States House of Representatives

CC:

Members of the United States Senate
Members of the United States House of Representatives