As Congress comes close to approving a bill to fund the government for the rest of Fiscal Year 2017, the White House is standing down from its request for $1.2 billion to build 48 miles of border wall. In addition to funding for the border wall, however, the Trump administration also requested that Congress appropriate another $1.8 billion in Fiscal Year 2017 for increased border security and intensified migrant apprehensions and deportations. The funding includes money to hire new agents for the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
WOLA opposes many of these proposals, including massively expanding the Border Patrol and ICE. (A detailed list of proposals is at the bottom of this article.) Here we break down some of the most controversial proposals and lay out why we hope Congress will oppose their inclusion in the omnibus spending package.
Trump administration request:
WOLA recommends against increasing the size of Border Patrol by 5,000 agents, which is the number that the Border Patrol’s union had been recommending to Congress and would be an increase of over 25 percent. Over the past 25 years, Border Patrol has consistently been one of the fastest-growing law enforcement agencies—if not the fastest-growing—in the federal government. There are just under 20,000 Border Patrol agents today, compared with 12,000 in 2006 and just 4,000 in 1993. (The current number is a slight decrease from the all-time high of 21,000 in 2011; Border Patrol hasn’t hired fast enough to keep up with attrition due to more stringent background checks and hiring procedures.)
There are two strong reasons why it is unwise to increase Border Patrol so rapidly:
Last year, the average Border Patrol agent apprehended 24 migrants. If the March 2017 apprehension rate were sustained for an entire year—which we think is unlikely—Border Patrol would apprehend only 146,316 migrants (the lowest yearly total since 1969), with the average agent apprehending just nine migrants over the course of the entire year, or one every six weeks. That is a long time to go without apprehending any migrants. With numbers this low, or even modestly higher, there is simply no case to be made for hiring another 5,000 agents.
Instead, Border Patrol should adjust staffing in a way that levels wide disparities in workloads among its nine sectors along the U.S.-Mexico border. For example, in the El Paso sector, which encompasses far west Texas and New Mexico, the average Border Patrol agent apprehended 11 migrants last year—but on the other side of Texas, agents in the Rio Grande Valley sector apprehended an average of 60 migrants each (nearly half of them children and families from Central America). Rather than an across-the-board increase, it would make more sense to increase the number of Border Patrol agents in the busy sectors and decrease the number in the quieter sectors. (We note that the “support border surge operations” category listed above may include some funding to support the relocation of Border Patrol agents to busier sectors.)
Meanwhile, WOLA finds it perplexing that the Trump budget proposal seems not to include any funding for additional CBP agents working at the land ports of entry, through which the vast majority of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and heroin pass hidden in vehicles (page 7 of this PDF). Needs seem especially acute in California’s San Diego sector, which seizes the lion’s share of heroin and methamphetamine and is second only to the Rio Grande Valley in cocaine seizures. Land ports of entry need more personnel to handle migration at the busiest international border in the world. They also need physical improvements to accommodate traffic and make more efficient inspections: the construction needs at ports totals $5 billion, none of which appears in the 2017 White House request.
In this context, the Trump administration hopes to add 5,000 new, inexperienced agents. In addition, the Homeland Security Department’s draft proposals related to the hiring surge call for looser background checks and polygraph waivers, especially for military veterans (whose combat experience may require them to fundamentally re-learn proper use of force for civilian law enforcement situations).
Looser hiring standards and more overwhelmed management are a very poor mix for Border Patrol, whose agents will be the first to tell you how clever, persistent, and relentless Mexico’s organized crime cartels are in trying to make inroads into law enforcement. A rush of hiring could weaken crucial oversight and make it easier for cartels to corrupt and even threaten Border Patrol agents into cooperating with them. It could also increase the probability of agents being involved in improper use-of-force incidents and other abuses.
Trump administration request:
WOLA strongly opposes this funding. Massively expanding ICE in such a short period of time raises concerns regarding recruitment standards and agent oversight and accountability. The proposed increase in the number of ICE agents would grow the entire force by 50 percent and nearly triple its deportation workforce (ICE currently has 20,000 employees, including 5,800 deportation agents and officers).The impact of this “deportation force” on immigrant communities would be devastating. Arrests of undocumented immigrants eligible for removals in the interior of the country increased by over 32 percent in the first two months of the Trump administration compared to the same period in 2016. Of these, more than 25 percent did not have a criminal record. Previously, even among those deported with criminal convictions, roughly 80 percent were people whose only crime was immigration-related (like illegal entry or re-entry)or a nonviolent offense like a traffic violation. Increased deportations will continue to tear immigrant families apart. According to a survey of deported Mexican immigrants, more than half have a family member who is a U.S. citizen, and one in four had a U.S. citizen child.
On detention, WOLA recommends that the detention of migrants awaiting an immigration hearing be reduced, not expanded and that Congress and the administration continue to pursue more cost effective alternatives to detention. The only crime for which migrants are being held in immigration detention is violating immigration law and some—including a number of women and children—are held while they are awaiting their asylum hearing. Locking people up simply to ensure they will appear for their immigration hearing is costly and inhumane. A 2014 Senate report found that on average it costs the United States $266 per day to hold a migrant in detention. Meanwhile, alternatives to detention—such as more humane and cost-effective measures such as ankle bracelets, home visits, and telephone monitoring, to ensure that individuals appear for their immigration hearings—cost an average of $7 a day per migrant.
The lucrative immigration detention system, where many migrants are being held in for-profit, privately owned centers, is also rife with allegations of abuse. Six detainees have died in ICE custody in Fiscal Year 2017 and there have been nearly 200 reported allegations of sexual abuse in detention centers since 2007. Detaining any individual apprehended at the border for “illegal entry” could deter many people with legitimate asylum claims from seeking protection in the country. Fearing detention, these individuals may put themselves at risk by traveling through remote parts of the border to avoid detection or by contracting the services of human smugglers who are more concerned about their profit than the migrants’ well-being. Detention also limits access to legal representation. A 2015 study showed that, without legal representation, only 1.5 percent of women with children who passed their credible fear interviews were given asylum in the United States.
Trump administration request:
WOLA opposes the 287(g) Program. Increasing local law enforcement involvement in immigration enforcement undermines the relationship between the police and the communities they serve. Out of fear, immigrants may be less willing to cooperate with police in criminal investigations and report crimes, including domestic violence. As past experiences with the Section 287 (g) Program have shown, it can also harm the constitutional and civil rights of some community members.