1. Update
  2. Immigrants & Refugees

Congress Can Halt Overspending on Immigrant Detention and Enforcement

By Karla Molinar-Arvizo, September 20, 2019


Under the guidance of the Trump administration, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has dramatically ramped up immigrant detention and enforcement efforts. As a result, DHS significantly overspent its budget. Now they are siphoning billions of dollars from other accounts to sustain these cruel practices, and are spending well beyond their congressionally approved funding levels.

This must stop. Mass detention and border wall construction are ineffective and misguided solutions—and by funding these policies through overspending, they become unconstitutional as well.

Making a Stand on Immigration Spending

That’s why FCNL has been working with members of Congress to ensure that they restore their constitutional power of the purse. Appropriators are in the final stages of deciding how to fund the government in fiscal year 2020, making this a crucial time for advocacy. Our priorities on immigration spending include:

Appropriators are in the final stages of deciding how to fund the government in fiscal year 2020, making this a crucial time for advocacy.

  • Lowering the number of detention beds.
  • Restricting overspending on detention.
  • Prohibiting the use of federal funds for border wall construction.
  • Defunding numerous anti-immigrant executive actions that erode the safety and vibrancy of our communities.

Earlier this year, the House passed spending bills that include many of these priorities. The Senate has yet to move forward with the majority of their bills. FCNL is urging Congress to ensure that the final appropriations bills cancel the administration’s authority to transfer and repurpose funds for inhumane policies and eliminate anomalies—a mechanism for providing funding that would otherwise not be included—in short-term spending bills.

A Pattern of Overspending for Inhumane Policies

The detention and deportation budget has grown more than 40 percent since 2017, by around $1 billion. The result? Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is reporting that they have 52,000 people incarcerated this month—that is 10,000 more people than Congress approved or funded.

Members of Congress have a real opportunity this fall to re-write appropriations bills and stop overspending.

Despite multiple reports of waste, fraud, and abuse in recent years, Congress has consistently increased funding for ICE within the DHS budget. In addition to these congressionally approved increases, DHS has also moved millions more dollars into the ICE detention account administratively—without congressional approval—and used other budgetary tricks to increase the pool of money for detention.

We saw an example of this just recently. As Hurricane Dorian was moving toward our coast, the news broke about ICE's irresponsible plans to reallocate millions designated for disaster relief and use them to keep more parents, children, and refugees needlessly behind bars.

Later that week, we learned that the administration also took money from 127 military construction projects and the Pentagon to build more of the border wall.

DHS is using loopholes and technical workarounds to siphon more and more taxpayer dollars into immigration detention and enforcement. Members of Congress have a real opportunity this fall to re-write appropriations bills and stop this from happening. They should do so. They should also write bills that prevent the construction of more border walls—construction that goes directly against congressional intent. FCNL supports Senator Leahy’s commitment to try and get this language into the Senate spending bill drafts.

Next Steps

Your member of Congress will have to make choices on these spending bills to fund the government past Oct. 1. You can urge them to support cancellation of the administration’s ability to move around money into detention and border wall construction. Write them today.

Update: Congress passed a continuing resolution, or short-term spending bill, until Nov. 21. It did not include additional money for ICE and CBP, however, it also did not include a guarantee that ICE and CBP will not continue detaining more than 45,000 people daily (the limit Congress imposed but the administration keeps exceeding). We urge Congress to ensure that the next spending bill prohibits DHS from continuing to overspend on enforcement.

The administration’s overspending and lack of accountability on immigration enforcement is helping fuel the crisis at the border—not solve it.

We urge Congress to pursue every avenue necessary to retain their power of the purse and end this history of fiscal mismanagement. Members must ensure that ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) do not overspend under any continuing resolution, and cancel ICE and CBP’s transfer and reprogramming authority in the fiscal year 2020 DHS bill.

Background ICE is Spending More Money Than Congress Intended: How is This Happening? 

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is now incarcerating around 10,000 more people than Congress has approved. Congress has said that ICE must stop increasing beds in detention facilities, but the overspending continues. Where is the money coming from?

Karla Molinar-Arvizo

  • Program Assistant, Immigration and Refugee Policy

Karla is the Program Assistant for Immigration and Refugee Policy. In her work, Karla tracks key legislation on congressional appropriations and funding, collaborates with partner organizations, and uplifts the values of FCNL through congressional visits and lobbying. She believes in the importance of maintaining relationships with constituents, and advocates for an immigration system where everyone is treated with dignity and respect.