1. Update
  2. Immigrants & Refugees

House Advances Enforcement Spending Bill Limiting Detention, Increasing Oversight

By Hannah Graf Evans, June 14, 2019


FCNL advocates have worked tirelessly with congressional leaders to stop the expansion of detention and cruel immigration enforcement – many of our priorities are reflected in the House spending bill advanced this week. There is more work ahead.

The House Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spending bill includes positive steps forward that should be defended and included in final passage of the bill. FCNL’s priorities include:

  • Lowered detention beds
  • Restricting overspending on detention
  • No additional Border Patrol agents
  • Ending family detention by the end of December 2019
  • Prohibiting the use of federal funds for border wall construction
  • And defunding numerous anti-immigrant executive actions that erode the safety and vibrancy of our communities.

Ending the Expansion of Immigration Detention

The immigration detention system has expanded by more than 50 percent since fiscal year 2016. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is reporting that they have 52,000 people incarcerated this month. This spending bill resets the number of beds back to 34,000 – the number of beds funded prior to President Trump’s numerous executive actions that put more longtime community members and vulnerable populations at risk for detention and deportation.

While marked progress given the daily population today, it is worth noting that 34,000 people in detention used to be a historic high that FCNL opposed.

We continue to seek policies that reduce the use of immigrant detention overall but welcome this step forward in the spending bill.

The spending bill prohibits the transfer of funds into the detention account – a priority for FCNL this year. It also increases oversight through inspections of existing facilities, additional public reporting on who is in immigrant detention, and the creation of a detention ombudsman to ensure access to due process. It expands alternatives to detention, including case management programs that do not require incarceration, and requires reporting on use of these alternatives.

However, FCNL opposes the creation of a “migration surge” slush fund that provides the DHS Secretary the authority to unilaterally move more money into immigrant detention to detain individuals transferred from border custody. Instead, we urge greater oversight and non-enforcement resources to ensure that asylum seekers, children, and other populations seeking refuge are never detained and instead welcomed and supported in the community.

Humanitarian responses should be purely humanitarian in nature, not at mixed purpose with enforcement.

Reining in Cruel Enforcement

The bill also prohibits the use of funds to implement locking immigrants out of pathways to legal-status based on wealth, country of origin, refugee-status, or further restricting access to asylum. It also prohibits the use of funds to carry out enforcement operations at “sensitive locations” including schools, churches, and hospitals, or to deport DACA, TPS, or DED holders. FCNL applauds this amendment offered by Rep. David Price (NC-04) and approved during mark-up.

Next Steps

We urge advocates to keep the pressure on. Tell your member of Congress that you support keeping these positive provisions intact before final passage of this bill. The next votes will be through the full House and then the legislation will need to be reconciled with the Senate bill which has not yet been released.

Our nation still spends too much money on cruel enforcement in the absence of meaningful reforms to keep families together and welcome more immigrants. The House also recently passed a clean pathway to citizenship for Dreamers at risk of deportation – without including unnecessary enforcement.

These are the beginnings of a shift in emphasis away from enforcement and into compassion for all navigating our immigration system. Make sure your member of Congress knows that you support this shift and urge them to keep working to protect migrants, refugees, and immigrants.

Action Alert Victory for Dreamers! Here's What Comes Next  

Great news! This week, the House passed the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 (H.R. 6). This is a critical step towards a permanent solution for millions of Dreamers and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients who have been stuck in limbo for years. Your advocacy made this win possible and now it is time for the next step.

Hannah Graf Evans

  • Legislative Representative, Immigration and Refugee Policy

Hannah Graf Evans lobbies for compassionate immigration policies. Our immigration system should empower immigrants and the American communities to which they belong, lift up the voices of border communities, and ensure adequate protections for refugees, asylum-seekers and victims of trafficking. Hannah served as co-chair of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition steering committee for three years and still plays an active role in pursuing shared policy priorities of the more than 50 faith-based member organizations.