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February 15, 2019

The Root: Ayanna Pressley Opposes Increased ICE Funding: ‘They’ve Proven Themselves Corrupt’

Donald Trump may not have gotten his wall on the U.S./Mexico border, but a new bill approved by Congress yesterday may still give him and his administration plenty of means to harass, detain, and deport tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants and migrants.

Among the lawmakers who pushed back against the bill, which would substantively increase funding for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, is Massachusetts Representative Ayanna Pressley, who said she wouldn’t approve any bill that increases funds by even one dollar.

“We should be decreasing funding, not increasing funding” for those agencies, Pressley told The Root on Friday, before the president announced his executive action.

“The best predictor of the future is the past, and they have proven themselves to be a rogue, corrupt agency.” 

Pressley signaled back in January that she would reject any bill that increased spending for CBP and ICE. While Pressley sees a necessity for immigration reform, she does not believe ICE is the proper vehicle. She was among 19 House representatives and five senators who voted against the congressional funding bill on Thursday evening.

The funding deal, drafted by the bipartisan Appropriations Committee, allocates $1.37 billion in taxpayer money toward construction on the current wall that runs along the southern border. It also includes substantial increases to CBP and ICE budgets—well over what Trump himself asked for.

Nearly $15 billion in taxpayer money will go to U.S. Customs and Border protection, which is nearly a billion more than current funding levels, and over $700 million more than what Trump himself asked for in the budget proposal he submitted to Congress, according to the bill’s conference report. Another $7.6 billion has been allocated to ICE—a half billion more than its current funding levels.

The new budget will also allow DHS to detain and monitor more undocumented immigrants. Included in the new funding deal is an 11 percent increase in detention beds, which would allow the agency to detain more than 45,000 people per day. And as Politico notes, since ICE and CBP have retained their ability to reprogram funds, that number could rise to as high as 58,500.

On top of locking asylum seekers and accused undocumented immigrants in detention centers, the new bill also allocates more money to “alternatives to detention” which would allow DHS to monitor some 100,ooo migrants (currently, that number is around 82,000). As Politico explains, “‘alternatives for detention’ typically includes ankle bracelets and case management by telephone.” According to criminal justice advocates, this “e-carceration” is simply another form of imprisonment.

Pressley, who has repeatedly called for ICE to be abolished, says the new funding deal rewards agencies that have proven to be corrupt. Immigration advocates have long called out the practices of both agencies, whose powers have swelled under the Trump administration. According to NBC News, 22 immigrants have died in ICE detention centers over the past two years. And last December, two children died while in CBP custodywithin weeks of each other. The American Civil Liberties Union has called out ICE’s removal tactics, which have disproportionately affected black undocumented immigrants, and CBP’s militarization of the southern border, which has “produced rampant abuses ranging from racial profiling to excessive force,” writes the organization.

Those practices have been particularly hard-felt in Massachusetts’ 7th Congressional District, which Pressley represents.

“[It’s] 53 percent people of color, 40 percent foreign born. And I’m seeing up close and personal the devastating impact on families. The decimating of entire communities. The fear that people are living in,” Pressley said, adding that in just the past year, there were 3,000 ICE detainees transferred through detention facilities in Massachusetts.

Before the Thursday vote, Pressley and representatives Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) issued a joint statement condemning the increased funding.

“By any reasonable measure, Donald Trump’s weaponization of ICE and CBP has been a failure,” they said. “The Department of Homeland Security does not deserve an increase in funding, and that is why we intend to vote no on this funding package.”

“We want to be abundantly clear: this is not a rebuke of federal workers or those who depend on the services they provide, but a rejection of the hateful policies, priorities, and rhetoric of the Trump Administration,” the statement added.

One thing the new funding deal does provide is increased congressional oversight into ICE and CBP activities. Pressley, who sits on the House Oversight Committee, says she looks forward to playing a role in holding these agencies accountable.

But while Pressley says she’s optimistic about the potential for stricter and more aggressive oversight, she emphasizes that ICE and CBP “are not people that we can negotiate with in good faith, and they’ve already proven themselves corrupt.”

With Trump expected to both sign the funding deal to law and issue an emergency declaration to supplement funding for a border wall, many, including Pressley, have noted that the longest government shutdown in U.S. history—one which saw hundreds of thousands of federal workers go without pay for more than a month—was for naught.

“This action was something that [Trump] could have done December 22,” Pressley said, adding, “he has held the American worker, the American family, our immigrant neighbors, family and friends hostage” over the wall. Pressley had harsh words for the president, calling his actions “desperate, erratic, unconstitutional, and also hypocritical.”

“He compromised our national security, the health and safety of those he’s charged with protecting, with that shutdown. And now you know he wants to pursue a national emergency declaration, which would leave us handicapped in the face of real emergencies because of where he would be pulling these funds,” she said.

Pressley added that the money appropriated for DHS could have gone many other places, like rebuilding efforts for Puerto Rico, which is still suffering the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria.

She also singled out legislation she drafted which was negotiated as part of the funding deal but ultimately didn’t make it in: providing backpay for thousands of low-age government contractors who went without work—and without paychecks—for more than a month.

Despite having bicameral and bipartisan support, those contracted workers, many of them working as janitors, cafeteria workers, and in other low-wage positions, will not be able to recoup salary and benefits they lost during the government shutdown.

“They just said that we didn’t have the funds,” Pressley explained.