An Almost Unnoticed Victory

Last week, while press attention was heavily focused on passage of House legislation to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, Latino and pro-immigration advocates won an almost unnoticed, but nevertheless important, victory. President Trump signed a $1.1 trillion spending deal to fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year that, according to Bloomberg News, “largely tracks Democratic priorities and rejects most of [President Trump’s] wish list, including funds for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.” The bill, H.R. 244, was required because Congress previously only appropriated enough funding for half of the 2017 fiscal year.

In mid-March, the White House formally requested an additional $30 billion in defense spending and more than $3 billion for the wall and other immigration enforcement. The Trump administration further asked Congress to cut $18 billion in funds for domestic programs to partially offset these increases. Separately, the administration also urged Congress to eliminate funding for so-called “sanctuary cities” that refuse to cooperate with his mass deportation scheme. With a single political party controlling both houses of Congress and the White House, one might’ve assumed that the president’s priorities would sail through the legislative process. Early on, Democratic negotiators made clear they would fight funding for the wall, seeking to beat back one of the president’s signature issues.

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While recognizing that funding for the wall would be wasteful and ineffective, NCLR’s analysis suggested that increased deportations posed a far great threat to the Latino community, with the potential for increased racial profiling, family separation, and economic harm. NCLR thus focused heavily on beating back funding for more Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, detention beds, and other items in the legislation that would facilitate increased deportations. For example, in a single week at the end of March, NCLR deployed every tool we’ve got:

  • NCLR President and CEO Janet Murguía noted in an op-ed in USA Today that increased deportations would rip families apart and undermine American values.
  • In conjunction with our Affiliates, NCLR brought S. citizens suffering the effects of deportation to a Capitol Hill press conference to highlight their stories. The event was also attended by Senators Charles Schumer, Kamala Harris, and Robert Menendez.
  • NCLR Affiliates visited more than 100 congressional offices on both sides of the aisle to express opposition to the proposed new deportation funding.
  • Accompanied by Janet Murguía, NCLR staff and Affiliates met with congressional leaders, including Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Senator Patty Murray and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, urging them to remove funding from the bill for new ICE agents and other deportation-related items.
  • The issue of killing new funding for mass deportation was also highlighted by Janet Murguía in her keynote speech at the annual NCLR Capital Awards gala.

Throughout March and April, NCLR’s legislative team coordinated with other civil and immigrant rights groups on dozens of Capitol Hill visits urging both Republican and Democratic congressional leaders to remove funding for increased deportations from the legislation.

This concentrated advocacy made a difference. The final bill excludes funding for the wall, does not cut off federal aid to sanctuary cities, and provides no new funding to support increased deportations. It does include about $1.1 billion in new money to the Department of Homeland Security, including for immigration and related enforcement. However, about $650 million will go mainly toward improvements existing infrastructure and technology investments at the border, which as a general matter NCLR does not oppose.

About $237 million is also allocated to ICE, including additional funding for what the House Appropriations Committee calls “detention and removal costs.” At first glance, one might assume that the new ICE funding could result in higher detention and deportation rates, but according to NCLR’s analysis of the bill:

  • No new money was approved for hiring new ICE agents.
  • Around $57 million of this new funding will go to the alternatives to detention program, which NCLR supports.
  • Most of the balance in purportedly new detention funding will pay for costs already incurred due to an unprecedented uptick in migration, mainly from Central Americans fleeing violence and seeking asylum in fall 2016.
  • Going forward, the deal that was struck on detention bed space—which provides a limitation on ICE’s ability to apprehend and eventually deport unauthorized immigrants—provides that detention bed levels should remain at about the same levels as under the previous administration. NCLR and its coalition partners will watch this closely as we head in to the next round of budget fights.
  • And, domestic discretionary spending—for Head Start, Meals on Wheels, education, and the like—was largely untouched.

As the New York Times noted, the Trump administration’s top priorities were “conspicuously absent” from the final version of the funding bill. Perhaps the best evidence that the bill represents a major win for the Latino community is that advocates for mass deportation were disappointed with the bill.

It is hardly time to declare victory, however. The legislative cycle for fiscal year 2018 appropriations is just beginning, and another funding showdown on funding for mass deportations is expected in September. And on literally the same day President Trump signed the appropriations bill into law, Texas Governor Gregg Abbott quietly signed S.B. 4, what NCLR called the “spiritual descendant” of Arizona’s infamous “papers please” law.

Notwithstanding the challenges that lie ahead, what NCLR, its Affiliates, and coalition partners accomplished in defeating major new funding to support the Trump administration’s mass deportation scheme should not go unnoticed. It shows what can be done when advocates use all of their assets—grassroots mobilization, aggressive communication, and direct lobbying—to lift up the voices of Americans likely to be adversely affected—to defeat unnecessary, divisive, and harmful legislation.

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