1. Update
  2. Immigrants & Refugees

Immigration Funding in the Omnibus

By Hannah Graf Evans, May 3, 2017

FCNL’s network was advocating for Congress to refuse to fund the $3 billion supplemental request from President Trump that included money for the border wall, additional agents, and expanded detention. Where did we end up?

What’s not included?

Members of the Appropriations Committee did not include money to construct President Trump’s proposed concrete wall or additional immigration enforcement agents. The measure also does not contain any policy riders that would jeopardize the funding for ‘sanctuary’ cities or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. FCNL celebrates this partial win that is thanks to the many advocates working across the country to resist President Trump’s supplemental request implementing endless and discriminatory immigration enforcement.

What is included?

Border "Security" and Barriers

Unfortunately Members of Congress did include $1.5 billion for “border security” including money to change hiring practices for border patrol agents, further develop technology and surveillance, and maintain and expand existing wall and fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border that push migrants to take more deadly routes. Border residents suffer every day from expanded militarized infrastructure and lack of oversight for agents patrolling in their communities. This additional funding is largely different from the money that President Trump asked for in his supplemental request, but it still wastes U.S. taxpayer dollars only to further infringe upon the rights and liberties of border residents and increase the likelihood for migrant deaths.

Detention Beds

Congress also included 5,000 additional beds in immigrant detention. The funding is accompanied by direction from Congress for the Department of Homeland Security to ensure new and modified contracts are in compliance with certain standards, which limits ICE’s ability to expand detention using subpar facilities. Still, immigrant detention is inherently ripe for abuse and human rights violations. Immigrants who are detained have a harder time accessing legal counsel, adequate medical services, and are often detained indefinitely as they await their cases be heard amidst a 500,000 backlog. Congress choosing to expand the number of beds funded in detention rewards ICE for overspending what they were previously allocated, and further entrenches an unjust practice.

Bittersweet Twist

Members of Congress have become increasingly frustrated by ICE’s inability to estimate the average daily population of immigrants in detention and what that costs the federal government. In a somewhat surprising twist, Congress finally eliminated the congressional immigrant detention quota which required the Department of Homeland Security to maintain no fewer than 34,000 beds in immigrant detention on a daily basis.

Since 2009 when this mandatory number was first put in the statutory language, FCNL and other advocates worked with members of Congress to strip the arbitrary provision out of the funding bills. The elimination of this quota is the culmination of years of advocacy, paired with a tumultuous political moment as DHS pushes Congress to fund expanded detention well above the original 34,000 quota.

Though far from a whole victory, the elimination of this quota means that as we continue our work to reduce the number of immigrants in detention, Congress has more flexibility to fund fewer beds in detention. FCNL is grateful for the work of our congressional allies and network on this issue, and together we will continue to work to end the injustices of immigrant detention.

Next Steps

Congress now turns to funding for FY18 where we expect to face many of the same challenges. Constituent advocacy across the country meant that Congress heard loudly and clearly that Congress must serve as a check on the President, and we saw that members of Congress held the line on a few key measures. We must ensure that members of Congress continue to hear how the increased use of detention, leeway for agents patrolling in communities, and militarized infrastructure and surveillance has a detrimental impact on U.S. communities. We must continue to keep up the pressure on Congress to reverse this endless enforcement trajectory.

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. Hannah served as co-chair of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition steering committee for three years.