Saturday, October 04, 2008

What Financial Crisis? Not at the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration Unit

FY ’09 budget showers more funds to support an antiquated system

No deals, austerity, belt-tightening and accountability have been some of the words heard in the Congressional corridors and the White House as national leaders hear from their frustrated constituents. In the case of the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unit, public spending doesn't appear to be a concern.

In fact, this past Tuesday Congress passed a Continuing Resolution which while keeping other government agencies in operation -- at least through March 6th -- provides the Department of Homeland Security a $39.98 billion budget for the 2009 fiscal year.

A cursory review of the Department's budget shows expenditures that continue the White House's relentless campaign of sweeping raids, detentions and deportations. The slowdown in the nation’s construction industry has had no impact on DHS. Indeed, DHS will continue its southern border buildup by constructing fences, adding personnel and the ongoing makeover of the Mexico-U.S. border into a militarized and hostile spread of land.

Moreover, in an attempt to respond to news reports, media coverage and a public outcry about the treatment and deaths of detainees while held in ICE custody, a small sliver of the bill places contractors squarely responsible if they fail to comply with the Department’s "detention standards." In this case, contractors may have their contracts canceled. Monitoring of the medical care of detainees will also be done by independent experts.

Detain and deport, a band-aid solution that won’t work

Yet, there is little – if any – interest in the promotion of fundamental policy shifts or in addressing the geopolitical and economic realities that propel a steady stream of immigration to the United States. A summary review of the DHS FY ’09 budget indicates:

  • 4,361 new hires at Customs and Border Protection
  • $775 million for border fencing
  • An increase in the ICE budget to nearly $5 billion (this is an increase of $254 million)
  • An additional 1400 detention beds

"This budget does not address the existing backlog of applicants, efforts to integrate immigrants or defend the labor rights of exploited and abused immigrant workers, instead it further criminalizes workers," concludes Gabriel Camacho, AFSC regional organizer in Boston. He has been working with communities throughout Massachusetts to train community members in what to do in case of a raid, and how to protect their constitutional and human rights.

Amy Gottlieb, director of AFSC’s Immigrant Rights Program (Newark, NJ) comments, “This windfall for the Department of Homeland Security allows ICE to send fugitive teams into immigrant neighborhoods and worksites, creating havoc in entire communities that are already living on the edge, feel the daily tension and where residents are fearful of even walking out their front door. These are communities in which children ask their parents, ‘Are we next?’ What can a parent say to a child? We don't need increased force and might."

Funds also will be used to support enforcement-only programs. Specifically, states will be provided funds for the implementation of the Real ID Act ($50 million), and the participation of local and state police in the 287(g) program ($5.4 million). Public dollars to the tune of $2.4 billion will go to the Office of Detention and Removal and the short-term approval of $100 million for the E-verify program. The E-verify program targets employers and requires them to ‘verify’ the employment documentation of their workers.

However, research has shown that the E-verify system is terribly flawed and inaccurate, and has also led to other problems, including the racial profiling of workers and other reported abuses. "Warehousing people in detention centers may be profitable for private industries but it also separates family members, disrupts the quality of life of entire communities, and the social fabric that imbues economic vitality. An outdated system requires fair and humane policy remedies, and taking corrective measures to address what is now obviously not working," concurs Gottlieb.

Spirit of Hope prevails despite spending spree and election year dance

Once again the opportunity to move toward substantive and humane immigration polices has been thwarted. It will take forceful public pressure for legislators to continue the public policy discussion, and to engage in a bipartisan effort that brings the present immigration system into the 21st century.

In spite of this climate, community-based organizations, nonprofits, non-governmental organizations, faith institutions, labor, neighborhood clubs and mutual aid societies, and grassroots leaders continue their work of supporting and training immigrant and refugee communities on constitutional rights, due process and civil liberties. Actions range from visits, calls and letters to legislators, to support and emergency assistance to families who have been impacted by raids, detention or the deportation of loved ones. In addition, several national organizations have undertaken public education campaigns to increase public awareness and challenge the anti-immigrant climate, and to mobilize for long-term, constructive and fair immigration policies.

Alice Perry, AFSC staff member in Portland, Oregon opines, “Our communities are not going to give up. Many of these men and women have sacrificed their lives to be here, to work here, to rear their children here, and to contribute what they can in their new country, now their new home. They are parents, neighbors, homeowners, taxpayers, and more. Their deep-rooted sense of justice and relentless hope continues to prevail over the hatred and disparagement they have experienced. AFSC's role is to affirm this spirit, promote dialogue, support family members and encourage humane changes to obsolete laws that no longer make sense and are impractical."