House Proposes Expansion of Detention

Published On: Donate

Yesterday evening, the House of Representative passed H.R. 2017, the Fiscal Year 2012 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spending bill. This legislation represents the House’s proposal as to how to fund all DHS agencies (Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, US Citizenship and Immigration Services, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Coast Guard, Secret Service and the Transportation Security Agency) from October 1, 2011 – September 30, 2012. The bill would provide DHS with $40.6 billion, 2.6% below current funding levels and 6.8% less than President Obama requested. Some House members voted against the bill because the cuts were too deep while others voted against it because the cuts were not deep enough. The Senate is not expected to take up its version of the bill until later this summer.

Despite Congress’s efforts to cut federal spending and the bill’s cuts to some DHS programs, this spending bill would actually increase detention spending by $150 million. Immigration detention already costs U.S. taxpayers $1.9 billion annually, while alternatives to detention programs are only $69.9 million and are more humane ways to ensure compliance with U.S. immigration laws. H.R. 2017 would increase detention spending next year to a grand total of $2.05 billion. The bill would also increase the number of detention beds available each day to detain migrants by 600 to a total of 34,000 beds. LIRS estimates that this could result in the detention of as many as 6,000 more migrants next year. It’s important to remember that in 1994, the federal government held 81,000 migrants in detention. This year DHS estimates that it would detain over 440,000 migrants.

Efforts like this are very troubling because they continue the troubling trend we have been working against at LIRS: as we delay a comprehensive fix for our immigration system, our enforcement mechanisms continue to expand. As we have demonstrated repeatedly on this blog and in our statements, and enforcement only approach harms families and communities while providing no durable solution to the larger issue.

In proposing to increase the size of our detention system, lawmakers are ignoring the harm done by detention, the need for alternatives to detention, and the need to put aside our blind belief that if we just enforce our broken laws the system will magically work.

Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher might have a bit of wisdom for us here. He wrote in his work of political philosophy Politics that “Even when laws have been written down, they ought not always to remain unaltered.” If we have an immigration crisis, that current law has been unable to regulate, then the only way to fix the system is to rewrite the law. If we continue to enforce the current law without considering a holistic solution we will only cause more harm, soe more distrust, and continue to rip the fabric of our communities.

Anyone who looks honestly and realistically at the state of immigration in this country will see the sheer impossibility of detaining and deporting all of the undocumented workers. Economically, logistically, politically, it just cannot be done. If we grant that impossibility then what are we to do? Even if we were to triple the detention budget, our immigration crisis would not disappear. Than why increase it by $150 million?

Thank you to all of you who joined LIRS to advocate for fair and thoughtful immigration spending proposals and to oppose harmful and wasteful measures. We know it is common to suffer from “issue fatigue”, especially when it seems like Washington gridlock will not allow us to provide a solution to this problem quickly. We thank you for your perseverance and hope in a better future for our communities, a future that includes our newest neighbors and protects the vulnerable migrants who have come to this country seeking protection.  For future updates, subscribe to get the LIRS blog delivered to your inbox,  follow our updates on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for the LIRS’s Stand for Welcome campaign.

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More information on H.R. 2017:

During consideration of the bill, House members submitted a number of amendments to modify the bill. Here is a summary of some relevant amendments that were considered:

–       Rep. Poe (R-TX-2) introduced an amendment to further increase immigration detention funding by $100 million. LIRS opposed this amendment.

  • The amendment was improperly filed and ruled out of order.

–       Rep. Poe (R-TX-2) introduced an amendment to restrict federal funding to localities that refuse to report undocumented immigrants, like victims of domestic violence and crime, to federal immigration officials. LIRS opposed this amendment.

  • The amendment was adopted by voice vote (no recorded vote).

–       Rep. Honda (D-CA-15) introduced an amendment to restore direct funding for immigration integration initiatives that encourage legal immigrants to become U.S. citizens. This funding provides support to community-based organizations like Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota that assist immigrants with citizenship preparation. As drafted, HR 2017 would have cut this direct funding. LIRS supported this amendment.

  • The amendment was adopted by voice vote (no recorded vote).

–       Rep. Cravaack (R-MN-8) introduced an amendment that would restate current law on alternatives to detention programs. LIRS opposed this amendment as it was not necessary.

–       Rep. Polis (D-CO-2) introduced an amendment to eliminate funding for the 287(g) program, an initiative that allows local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law after they receive training. Recognizing that DHS management of the 287(g) program have been highly criticized, police jurisdictions divert their attention away from dangerous criminals to enforce federal immigration laws, and that it undermines community trust. LIRS supported this amendment.

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