On September 30, 2019, the third fiscal year of the Trump administration ended. Every year on September 30, the federal government’s annual budget expires and Congress must pass a new one. This process is called “appropriations.”
Right now Congress is in the process of deciding how to fund our federal government for fiscal year 2020. This annual process is called “appropriations,” and includes funding everything from the US Postal Service to international food aid. The appropriations process is Congress’s biggest opportunity to put its “money where its mouth is” by deciding how they want the federal government to function.
The federal budget is a moral document that reflects our priorities as a society. We believe that Congress should allocate its resources to programs and services that advance the common good: this includes providing support for vulnerable communities and those living in poverty, as well as caring for our wounded earth.
Before the end of September, the House of Representatives passed almost all of their appropriations bills, with the notable exception of the bill that covers the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS is the federal agency responsible for immigration detention, deportation, and border enforcement. Before the end of September, the Senate had not passed any of their appropriations bills.
September 30th came and went with no new federal budget. Instead, Congress passed a short-term budget extension that funds the government at the same levels as the previous fiscal year. This is called a “continuing resolution.” They are supposed to be temporary measures, but Congress has been using them more and more frequently as it becomes more difficult for them to pass budgets on time.
The current “continuing resolution” expires on November 21st. Before that time, Congress must either pass another budget extension or pass a full budget, as the process intends.
As of today, the Senate must still pass their version of the appropriations bills. Then the two chambers of Congress must agree on a final version in order to complete the process.
In their current form, the House-passed bills reflect many of CCAO’s priorities. They include, for example, funding for alternatives to immigrant detention and no more funding for the border wall. However, when the two chambers produce their compromise bills, they could strip out provisions like this. We want to ensure that the Senate upholds these provisions, but are worried that they won't.
Since 2017, the presidential administration has increased immigration enforcement dramatically. Some of these tactics include more border wall construction, family separation at the border, record high detention numbers, and procedural barriers to accessing asylum. Each tactic requires funding for the federal agencies that implements them, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Both agencies report to DHS.
DHS’s budget has ballooned since 2016: CPB’s budget increased from $13.3 billion to $18.4 billion and ICE’s budget increased from $6.2 billion to $8.1 billion.
Congress is responsible for these increases because each year they have appropriated the agencies more money, but DHS has also diverted money from other agencies to pay for its bloated immigration enforcement. For example, in August 2019, DHS diverted $271 million from agencies including FEMA and the US Coast Guard to increase its number of detention beds for migrants and to expand the “Remain in Mexico” policy.
The president has also diverted money allocated for other agencies to DHS in order to continue construction of the border wall. For example, the president took billions of dollars from the Department of Defense, including from military construction projects.
These kinds of money transfer are in direct violation of Congress’ intent.
Columbans who work on the US/MX border tell us that enforcement tactics like the “Remain in Mexico” policy and restricting access to asylum put our migrant sisters and brothers in harm’s way. One lawyer working in Ciudad Juarez across the border from El Paso said people are dying because of all this enforcement and militarization.
Congress has the authority to decide whether they want to carry out endless and cruel enforcement in the name of the American people, or whether they will instead invest in long term, compassionate solutions.
There are more just, more humane, and more effective policy solutions to the situation on the US/MX border: these include, addressing the root causes of migration, expanding access to asylum, and implementing community-based alternatives to detention.
The appropriations process is a crucial tool to realize these solutions. We can reach out to our Members of Congress during the appropriations process to urge them to create an immigration system consistent with our faith values.
As they negotiates a final budget deal, we ask them to:
Cut funding for ICE and CBP, including funding for detention and agents.
End DHS’ ability to transfer funds for purposes of detention and enforcement and irresponsibly overspend.
As people of faith, we have a sacred obligation to welcome the “stranger” with love and compassion (cf. Mt 25: 31-46). God is calling all of us to greater fidelity. Together we are called to discern new paths of justice and mercy (Night Will Be No More, #4).
*Editor's Note: Download our Border Solidarity Toolkit for a curated list of resources and activities that will help you learn more about US/MX border communities and how you can support them through prayer, education, and action.
Copyright © 2021 Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, Washington, D.C.