Hispanic Caucus to Homeland Security conferees: No more money for immigrant detention or a wall

Letter also calls for more oversight of immigration enforcement agencies

Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, pictured with his son, as House members were sworn in on the first day of the 116th Congress on Jan. 3, led a letter to the Homeland Security appropriations conference urging them not to approve any more money for immigration detention or a wall. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquin Castro and 20 members of his caucus sent a letter to the Homeland Security conferees urging them not to appropriate any more money for immigrant detention or a border wall.

“We urge you to oppose increases in funding for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for the purposes of immigration detention, Trump’s deportation force, the border wall — and ensure that certain types of detention are not expanded or replaced in ways that conflict with the goal of reducing detention overall.”

The letter, addressed to all 17 appropriators on the Homeland Security conference committee and sent Tuesday, was signed by more than half of the 38-member Hispanic Caucus, including the group’s top leaders and the No. 4 House Democrat, Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján.  

Democratic leaders have often deferred to Hispanic Caucus members to take the lead on immigration issues. Their opposition to anything the conference committee comes up with could spell trouble for its ability to pass the House. 

However, the caucus is well represented in the conference negotiations. Half of the six House Democratic conferees, Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard and Pete Aguilar of California and Henry Cuellar of Texas, are in the Hispanic Caucus.

Roybal-Allard,  Aguilar and Cuellar did not sign the letter, likely because it was addressed to them. Plus the conferees have been trying to keep an open mind during the negotiations. However, they all have previously made arguments similar to the ones the CHC made in its letter. 

In addition to no further money for detention, the letter calls for an “increase transparency, accountability, and oversight of ICE and CBP, including by requiring annual audits of spending in all programs and inspections of all detention facilities whether operated by DHS or its contractors.”

They also suggest appropriators should limit those agencies from being able to reprogram funds to build a wall or border barriers, increase detention, or ramp up enforcement.

And echoing a letter sent earlier this week by outside privacy advocates, the CHC members urged the appropriators to ensure border technology investments do not infringe on privacy and civil liberties.

The Hispanic Caucus members explained the rationale for their request to the conferees as not wanting Congress to further empower President Donald Trump and what they say is his administration’s “anti-immigrant agenda,” which they say he’s been carrying out with congressionally appropriated funds.

Since the Department of Homeland Security’s inception in 2003, ICE’s budget has more than doubled and CBP’s has nearly tripled, “unprecedented levels” that have enabled the enabling the administration to use “overly aggressive enforcement” against immigrant and border communities, they said. 

“Providing DHS with a blank check for more enforcement resources would vindicate President Trump’s so-called ‘crisis’ at our southern border and fortify his out-of-control detention and deportation force,” the caucus members wrote. “At a time when the country is deeply disturbed by the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda, we cannot miss this opportunity to rein in the agency chiefly responsible for carrying it out.”

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