1. Update
  2. Immigrants & Refugees

Shutdown Watch: Senate Should Pass Remaining Bills

Rein in ICE Overspending on Detention

By Hannah Graf Evans, February 11, 2019


Congress has until Friday to pass the remaining spending bills and avert another government shutdown. A bipartisan bicameral group of lawmakers were tasked with coming up with a deal to fund the Department of Homeland Security. They are right up against the deadline for coming up with an agreement.

The negotiations for Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stalled over the weekend once again, this time over the number of beds in immigrant detention. It’s being reported that Democrats want a “cap” on immigrant detention.

Here’s a translation: Negotiators were pushing for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to follow the law and stop overspending the money Congress allocates for detention.

FCNL agrees that we should not use the threat of a shutdown to let ICE or Custom and Border Protection (CBP) overspend on harmful enforcement at odds with our faith values.

Letter Diane Randall Joins Faith Leaders' Call to Keep Government Open & Protect Immigrants 

Twenty-nine faith leaders representing national faith-based organizations sent a letter to members of Congress tasked with finding a way forward on government spending ahead of February 15. The signers urged the committee to avert a shutdown and implement responsible spending practices for immigration enforcement.

How ICE is Overspending

Congress funded just over 40,000 beds for the past fiscal year, but ICE is jailing 49,000 people after stealing money that had been designated for disaster recovery, the coast guard, and other agencies within DHS.

Beds in immigrant detention are not just beds. They represent someone’s mother, pastor, teacher, son, or grandfather in a jail cell. They are there because they do not have the right papers and ICE has the space to keep them in detention, not because they have gone through due process to determine if they are a threat to the community.

The sticking point for the negotiations was that Republican negotiators want ICE to be able to detain all “criminals” – regardless of the amount of money that ICE has been given by Congress. That number, however, grew exponentially when President Trump took office and declared all undocumented people “criminals” and demanded Congress fund 52,000 beds to fill jails with community members and asylum seekers.

ICE continues to overspend, even though less costly community-based alternatives to detention exist. Rather than invest in those programs, detention is at a historic high and ICE is essentially writing their own spending bills to keep expanding. Democrat negotiators were trying to stop that from happening, hence pushing for a cap and a restriction on how ICE can move money around. This is a worthy cause. If it is not addressed during these negotiations, FCNL will continue to push for it to be addressed in future spending deliberations.

Take Action

We need our leaders in Congress to work together to restore oversight to enforcement spending and pass responsible spending bills through the rest of this fiscal year. Millions in our communities are depending on them.

It is unlikely that this fundamental disagreement will go away in the coming days. It is critical that Senators weigh in so that this impasse doesn’t result in another shutdown. The longest government shutdown had, and continues to have serious, lasting consequences for millions of individuals and families, especially those facing poverty and food insecurity.

Regardless of whether an agreement is reached on immigration enforcement spending, please ask your Senators to urge leadership to pass the other bills before the end of the week.

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 co-chairs the steering committee of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, made up of over 45 faith-based organizations.