While President Joe Biden’s initial budget request to Congress this past April included an ask for hundreds of millions of dollars to address naturalization and asylum backlogs at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (good) and zero new dollars for the previous president’s stupid border wall (also good), the proposal contained no specifics on cash for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agencies, raising concerns among advocates who have been urging cuts to the out-of-control agencies.

Those concerns were justified. The Biden administration’s full budget request, unveiled May 29, “does not call for any overall reductions,” Immigration Impact said. “Under his proposal, both ICE and CBP would be funded at basically the same level that Congress set for the agencies in Fiscal Year 2021.” In fact, the president’s budget asks for an additional $291 million to be directed to Border Patrol, which Immigration Impact said would put that specific department’s budget at over $5 billion for the first time.

Further raising concerns is that the Biden administration is asking for funds that would reduce the overall ICE detainee population by just 1,500 people, from the 31,500 approved by Congress in the previous budget to 30,000 beds in the next fiscal year. “ICE is currently detaining nowhere near that number of people, which makes the Biden administration’s request particularly troubling even considering the reduction in detention capacity,” Immigration Impact noted. 

Due to a number of factors including novel coronavirus pandemic limits, a low of approximately 13,500 immigrants were in ICE detention at the end of February, according to TRAC data. That number has since risen to approximately 21,500 as of the end of May. That the Biden administration still seeks to detain thousands more, even if it’s fewer than the previous year, is concerning because ICE has in the past ignored the very limits set by Congress. ICE defied limits as recently as 2019, when it detained nearly 55,000 people even though lawmakers funded detention for 45,000 people.

“Before the administration released the budget, advocates called for the Biden administration to not only halt the growth of the immigration enforcement apparatus but to reverse it,” Immigration Impact continued. “In particular, advocates hoped Biden would cut the budget for immigration detention at a time of historically low detention levels, but the budget did not reflect such cuts.” 

“Time and time again we have seen that bigger budgets for ICE and CBP do not result in better conditions, but rather expose that these agencies are fundamentally flawed,” the Defund Hate campaign said following the release of the president’s initial budget earlier this year. According to a statement received by Daily Kos following the official budget’s release, Defund Hate said the budget requests $8.4 billion for ICE, and $16.3 billion for CBP.

“Because Congress has the power of the purse, the #DefundHate campaign will continue to work with a growing coalition of senators and representatives who understand the importance of diverting funding from ICE and CBP to programs that help our communities thrive,” the organization said. The statement said advocates held a press briefing with Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley “to outline expectations for President Biden to dramatically divest from ICE and CBP and share alternative visions for how federal funding can and should be better prioritized.”

In a major victory for detained immigrants and their advocates, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas late last month ordered the termination of ICE contracts for two facilities currently under federal investigation. One of the two sites, Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia, is currently being investigated following horrific allegations that detained women were forced to undergo unwanted procedures by a notorious gynecologist. The closure of ICE facilities is the direction the Biden administration should continue in, not throw even more money these agencies so that they can continue their abuses.

“Alarmingly, the budget encourages ‘continued expansion’ of the 287(g) program despite President Biden’s promise to aggressively limit use of the program and terminate all 287(g) agreements entered into under the Trump administration,” Defund Hate continued. Jennifer Piper, interfaith organizing director for American Friends Service Committee’s Colorado Immigrant Rights program, called the billions for ICE and CBP a continuation of the previous administration’s “harmful trend.”

“This is a heartless mandate to these agencies to continue separating families, abusing and neglecting people in unsanitary jails and detention centers, and allowing hundreds to die in their custody,” Piper said in the Defund Hate statement. “We call on the Biden administration to defund ICE and CBP and invest in restoring community-based supports for asylum seekers, addressing the root causes of migration with direct support to local and sustainable efforts, and providing resources that make our whole communities here at home healthier and stronger.”

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