DHS Raids Other Agencies’ Budgets to Fund More Immigrant Detention: Religious Leaders React

August 28, 2019

Washington, DC (August 27, 2019) – The Trump administration has alerted Congress that it is raiding the budgets of other federal programs, to dedicate even more money toward the mass incarceration of immigrants.

“The administration has made its immigration priorities very clear – more children, families, and refugees behind bars at whatever fiscal or moral cost. We condemn this, and call on Congress to end this pattern and invest in solutions that truly protect our communities,” said Katie Adams, Domestic Policy Advocate for the United Church of Christ and Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC) Co-Chair.

Immigration detention has soared in the last two decades. Congress has only authorized funding for the detention of 40,520 immigrants–which is far too much already. Many immigrants are held in remote jails far from lawyers and their families, in a deliberate strategy to make it harder for them to fight their cases in court. The lack of medical care in immigration jail has led to preventable deaths of children and adults, among other human tragedies. (Sources: ICE ‘Detention Management’ Statistics; Buzzfeed News; The Marshall Project; National Immigrant Justice Center; National Public Radio; ACLU; Detention Watch Network, Freedom For Immigrants).

Rev. Terri Hord Owens, General Minister & President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the U.S. and Canada, reacted: “The faith tradition I claim is inspired by Jesus who, from the start, announced his ministry as one which came ‘to proclaim liberty to the captives…(and) to set at liberty those who are oppressed’ (Luke 4:18). Such a calling is one we must likewise take up today–by pushing back against the ever-ballooning numbers of detained immigrants which have grown from 7,000 in 1994 to nearly 55,000, from over 50 countries of origin, now held in nearly 200 detention centers that span every state across the country.”

Across the United States, more and more people are denouncing our governments’ addiction to mass incarceration. Many are working to expose not only who suffers due to mass human detention–ordinary folks and their families–but also who profits from their misery (Source: Migration Policy Institute). President Trump’s anti-immigrant policies are lining the pockets of private prison executives and shareholders with hard-earned U.S. tax dollars.

“Efforts by the Trump Administration to engage in mass incarceration of immigrant women, men, and children all to line the pockets of the private prison industry are deeply disturbing and a rejection of our sacred call to ‘bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners.’ We urge Congress to hold the Administration accountable for this abuse of power by cutting funds to the Department of Homeland Security,” said Laura Peralta-Schulte, Senior Government Relations Advocate, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice.  

“Micah 6:8 tells us that good faith requires us to do justice and to love kindness,” said Rev. John L. McCullough, President and CEO of Church World Service. “Especially when it comes to children and families in our care, it is our duty to hold fast to that commandment. It is up to Congress to stop this administration’s campaign of cruelty. As Congress appropriated funds, they must use that leverage to ensure humane policies. Abuses carried out in our nation’s name must be investigated and those responsible must be held accountable. Our nation’s conscience has been repeatedly shocked by the images of horrific treatment of families and vulnerable individuals at our southern border. We call attention to the moral dimensions of public policy and recommend reforms that uphold the God-given dignity and rights of every person, each of whom are made in the image of God. It is time for Congress to demand that families seeking safety are treated with the dignity they deserve – and cut funding for immigration detention, deportations, and border militarization.”

“Taking money from FEMA is unacceptable in any situation,” said Sr. Marie Lucey, Associate Director of Franciscan Action Network, “but transferring funds to detain immigrants who have a right to seek asylum from violence, death threats, and dire poverty in their home countries is even more intolerable. Detention of immigrant children and families for indefinite periods must be stopped. FAN condemns taking needed funds from FEMA and other agencies to enable private prison corporations to profit from incarcerating  immigrant children and families.”

“It is cruel, counterproductive, and unconstitutional for the Trump administration to take money that Congress has appropriated for the well-being of our communities and redirect it to ICE detention facilities,” said Rachel Gore Freed, Vice President and Chief Program Officer of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. “This administration is already locking up immigrants at record levels, shutting down pro bono hotlines for people in detention, and trying to give itself the power to indefinitely detain children. The number of people confined in ICE facilities each day has grown by more than 60% in the last three years—this epidemic of incarceration must come to an end.”

“It is egregious that the Trump administration is once again raiding other accounts within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to expand an already deadly and inhumane detention system,” said Tori Bateman, Policy Advocacy Coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee. “We have challenged such actions in the past and will continue to call on Congress to take action. With the lives of immigrants and critical spending like disaster relief at stake, it is essential that Congress cut, not increase, funding for detention, and pass a fiscal year 2020 spending bill that finally puts an end to DHS’s ability to manipulate the appropriations process.”

“ICE’s overspending and lack of accountability is not solving the humanitarian crisis in our southern border, Instead, it is fueling the ongoing detention and punishment of refugees seeking safety,” said Diane Randall, executive secretary for the Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers). “Rather than pour more money to fund the punitive machinery that drives our response to immigration, Congress should craft real, humane solutions.”

“The federal budget is a contract with the American people and it is a moral document where we show ourselves and the world our priorities. We have said loud and clear that lengthened detentions, that the incarceration of families, that the building of more cells is not how we want to spend our money and it is not how we want to be perceived by the world. The National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd calls on Congress to take back its budgetary authority and stand up to this Administration,” said Lawrence E. Couch, Director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.

“This kind of mismanagement of government and misuse of federally appropriated funds must stop happening,” said Sandy Sorensen, Director of the United Church of Christ Washington D.C. Office for Justice and Witness Ministries. “This an extreme example of careless stewardship of taxpayer funds; and part of a larger problem in which the Department of Homeland Security seems to consider itself exempt from thoughtful fiscal management.  Beyond this matter though, is one of moral outrage. The money being taken from disaster relief and other vital government programs will be going toward the immoral and inhumane detention of our migrant siblings. Congress cannot allow this to continue.”

“Reports that the Trump administration is planning to transfer funds from other government agencies and programs to fund its massive immigrant detention program is outrageous and runs contrary to our country’s supposed commitment to family values and fiscal responsibility. What are our priorities? Why are we spending billions of dollars to hold vulnerable migrants including children in deplorable conditions and treat them as less than human? As a nation we can do better than this. Congress must exercise its constitutional responsibilities and thwart this move on the part of the Trump administration,” said Margaret Conley, Director, Justice Team, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.

For more on the moral choices involved in federal funding decisions, see this letter to Congress from religious organizations, this memo, this backgrounder on cost-effective alternatives to detention, and this set of border policy recommendations from faith communities. 

The Interfaith Immigration Coalition is made up of 53 national, faith-based organizations brought together across many theological traditions with a common call to seek just policies that lift up the God-given dignity of every individual. In partnership, we work to protect the rights, dignity, and safety of all refugees and migrants.

Contact: Lynn Tramonte | media@interfaithimmigration.org | 202-255-0551