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FCNL remains committed to seeking reduced spending and emphasis on detention and border militarization. We urge members of Congress not to use current historic levels of enforcement spending as the starting baseline for upcoming negotiations.

While the omnibus passed last week provided much needed relief and stability to millions relying on government programs, services, and jobs, it also included a concerted increase in both border militarization and immigrant detention.

Fencing & Walls

While President Trump’s full request went unfulfilled, the $1.375 billion for physical barriers included in the bill for 55 new miles plus $100 million for increased surveillance between ports of entry will further disrupt communities on our border. It will also force migrants into dangerous routes as they make their journey to the United States. Walls are costly, damaging to ecosystems and economies, and do not deter forced migration.

We unequivocally oppose President Trump’s choice to circumvent congressional spending authority to further expand construction of barriers. The real national emergency is that of separated children, lethal detention conditions, illegal asylum bans, and congressional apathy to these crises. Unchecked spending on border enforcement and more barrier construction is no solution. We urge Congress to ensure that tax dollars are being spent responsibly and that border communities’ needs are being met.


The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spending bill for Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) also included an increase in ICE detention bed funding. While the bed number was marketed as a cut from the unprecedented 49,000 people behind bars this month, Congress only allocated funding for 40,520 beds in Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18). This bill allocates enough money to detain an average daily population in detention of 45,274 in FY19.

The underlying expectation is that ICE will have to lower the number of beds to around 40,000 by the end of this fiscal year to stretch their funding through the end of the year. However, in FY18 Congress tried the same thing. Instead of detaining fewer people, ICE transferred money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Coast Guard, and other DHS agencies into immigrant detention, allowing the number of people detained to reach historic highs.

ICE habitually overspends what is allocated to them and conditions in detention remain dire. The vast majority of immigrants navigating the system have no reason to be detained, yet we’ve seen ICE and CBP use detention on increasingly vulnerable populations including children, asylum seekers, pregnant women, and primary caregivers.

It is critically important that Congress conduct robust oversight over ICE detention practices and restrict DHS authority to transfer funds into ICE detention in Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20).

Looking Forward to Future Spending Processes

Every year Congress increases funding for a machinery of detention, deportation and border militarization, now spending around $26 billion annually. We urge Congress to reverse course in future negotiations and reduce spending on a punitive immigration system.

Here are two ways that your member of Congress can help speak out against this trend:

  • Make a public statement opposing new levels of DHS enforcement spending. Commit to working to invest instead in community-based alternatives to detention, legal services, and responsibly addressing the root causes of migration, such as poverty and violence in the Northern Triangle.

  • Weigh in publicly and directly with leadership about the need to increase oversight over ICE detention practices and restrict transfer authority into additional ICE detention in FY20.

Thank you for advocating for spending choices that protect the rights, safety, and dignity of migrants, refugees, and immigrants.

Gabriela Viera

Gabriela Viera

Program Assistant, Immigration & Refugee Policy
Gabriela Viera served as the Program Assistant for Immigration and Refugee Policy for 2018-2019.
Hannah Evans

Hannah Graf Evans

Former Legislative Representative, Immigration and Refugee Policy
Hannah Graf Evans led FCNL’s lobbying for compassionate immigration and refugee policies, with a particular focus on detention practices, the rights of border communities, and protection of vulnerable communities.

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