Amid the chaos that ensued on Thursday afternoon once Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that President Donald Trump plans to imminently declare a national emergency to build a border wall, immigrant rights groups raised alarm about the spending bill negotiated by Republican and Democratic leaders that will prevent another government shutdown, but also includes concessions to the president's anti-immigrant agenda.
"This fundamentally bad deal represents an attack on immigrant communities and their allies and a gift to Trump and his deportation force."
—Heidi Hess, CREDO Action
"This fundamentally bad deal represents an attack on immigrant communities and their allies and a gift to Trump and his deportation force," CREDO Action co-director Heidi Hess declared in a statement early Thursday. "It is a betrayal of immigrant communities and the Democratic Party's progressive base."
The 2019 Consolidated Appropriations Act passed the GOP-controlled Senate 82-16 on Thursday before heading to the House, where it faces a less certain fate. If the measure makes it to Trump's desk—McConnell also confirmed on Thursday that the president is willing to sign it—the bill would provide $1.375 billion for 55 miles of fencing in Southern Texas and would increase Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) budget by hundreds of millions of dollars.
Hess charged that "the failure to explicitly block ICE from continuing to reprogram funds amounts to handing this rogue agency a blank check to detain far more people than Congress has explicitly authorized."
José Flores, president of Voces de la Frontera, concurred, arguing that the results of the 2018 midterm elections prove that the American people oppose any legislation that "builds more border walls and increases ICE's capacity to imprison and separate immigrant families."
"During this time of abuses at the border and terrifying raids throughout the country like the raid last September in Wisconsin, we need Congress to use their power of the purse to hold ICE and Customs and Border Patrol accountable for their abuses and stop Trump's campaign of terror against immigrant communities," he added. "This bill will cause more deaths at the border and will separate more families in places like Wisconsin, and so we are urging our elected representatives to oppose it."
Indivisible, in a statement on Thursday, outlined key pieces of the border deal that immigrant rights advocates oppose:
- Increased funding to jail immigrants and asylum seekers (more "beds"). Funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention beds increases from 40,520 in fiscal year 2018 to 45,274 in fiscal year 2019. And, it does nothing to restrict ICE from expanding further.
- Increased funding for immigration enforcement (including more "boots"). ICE's funding grows by $512 million, and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) will receive an extra $912 million. This will pay for more ICE and CBP agents.
- Trump's vanity wall. Trump was denied his full wall request, but received $1.375 billion for "primary pedestrian barriers." This in addition to the $1.3 billion in wall funding in fiscal year 2018.
One particular element of the legislation that has alarmed human rights defenders is funding to boost border surveillance.
As Fight for the Future's Evan Greer put it, "It's sickening to see both Republicans and Democrats add significant funding for invasive surveillance technologies to trample on millions of people's basic rights at a mass scale," especially given that "agencies like DHS, ICE, and Border Patrol have shown reckless disregard for basic human rights, dignity, and the Constitution."
"It's sickening to see both Republicans and Democrats add significant funding for invasive surveillance technologies to trample on millions of people's basic rights at a mass scale."
—Evan Greer, Fight for the Future
"The U.S. government's mass surveillance programs are already out of control. We should be dismantling them not expanding them," she charged, calling on lawmakers to reject the bill.
"Look, we don't want a(nother) government shutdown. But choosing between protecting immigrants and keeping the government running is a false choice—especially with Democrats in control of the House," Indivisible concluded. "Congress still has time to pass a clean, year-long continuing resolution (CR) before tomorrow's deadline, that would keep the government open, and that wouldn't expand Trump's deportation machine any further."
We have a moral responsibility to stand with immigrants who would suffer harm from this deal. We join with @UNITEDWEDREAM, @NILC, @DetentionWatch, & the #DefundHate coalition to call on Congress to vote NO on this deal - and pass a clean funding bill instead. pic.twitter.com/kZkvcVPCyG
— Indivisible Guide (@IndivisibleTeam) February 14, 2019