How Trump’s proposed budget is out of touch with the current realities at the border

We should all be mindful of the harm that can be done to our communities when Congress starts talking about budgets. The upcoming budget fight is no exception.

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Gage Skidmore

President Trump’s budget request for fiscal year 2019 includes some lowlights when it comes to funding for border activities and operations. For starters, while we can all probably agree that any nation has a right to secure its border, the President’s budget would award U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) the highest level of funding in its history, at $14.4 billion. CBP is the agency charged with securing the nation’s borders and ports of entry.

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U.S. Border Patrol (USBP), housed within CBP, is by itself one of the largest agencies in the federal government with a budget of about $4.4 million. By comparison, the FBI, the second largest non-DHS federal law enforcement agency in the country, had a budget of about $9 billion in fiscal year 2018.

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For starters, this extraordinary level of spending is wasteful. Before handing CBP a blank check, Congress should evaluate this unprecedented request in proper context. Since 2000, the number of border apprehensions has decreased from about 1.6 million to just slightly more than 300,000 in fiscal year 2017, and this dramatic downward trend has continued into FY2018.

Today, fewer Mexicans and single adults are attempting to cross the border illegally. According to the Pew Research Center, migration from Mexico continues to be net negative, meaning more people are leaving than are coming in.  At the same time, a greater share—as a percentage—of border apprehensions consist of Central Americans, including family units and unaccompanied minors seeking asylum and other humanitarian relief under our nation’s laws.

For more information about the unique considerations involved when processing asylum seekers from countries that do not share a land border with the U.S.—like El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala—check out this informative piece penned by one of the senators who authored the laws on the books protecting them.

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Simply put – Because there isn’t a need. 

But don’t take our word for it.  The U.S. Department of Homeland Security itself stated in a recent report that, “available data indicate that the southwest land border is more difficult to illegally cross today than ever before.’”  Another way to look at the President’s massive spending plan, including the $211 million in new spending to hire 750 new CBP agents and more than $90 million for recruitment, retention, and relocation of agents, is that in 2017, each of the U.S. Border Patrol’s 19,437 agents apprehended just about 1.3 people per month.  This number is trending to be smaller in 2018.

Increased border funding, including for more agents, mean more strain on communities along the borderlands.  Under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, law enforcement officers have more leeway to operate in border jurisdictions than other parts of the country.  Those in border communities, including those 100 miles inland, are subject warrantless and probable cause-less searches and seizures.  See this map, for perspective on what this means on the southern border:

Studies show that not only are southern border states safer than most non-border states, but U.S. cities near the border are even safer.  Homicide rates for the main U.S. cities along the southern border are consistently lower than the homicide rates in other major U.S. cities of equivalent size.  For example, located directly across Ciudad Juarez, El Paso had the lowest crime rate of any city with more than half a million inhabitants.  For larger cities, FBI statistics for 2010 showed that the border city of San Diego experienced 2.2 homicides per 100,000 residents, compared to 7.6 for Los Angeles, 21.9 for Washington D.C., and 6.4 for New York.

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…Turns out, no.

CBP currently has nearly 2,000 agents less than its current authorized level and has struggled to retain current agents. Trump’s budget would call for an additional 5,000 agents beyond the nearly 2,000 agent shortfall that already exists.

Additionally, before Congress gives Congress more money for agents, CBP should commit to officer transparency and accountability.  Consider this – the DHS Inspector General found that between FY2013 and FY2016, CBP spent about $5.1 million completing more than 2,300 polygraphs for applicants with significant pre-test admissions of wrongdoing. In this case, wrongdoing included crimes such as sex with minors, domestic violence, felony theft, and conspiracy to commit murder.


The FY2019 budget request includes an additional $600 million for technology like aircraft and other aviation assets ($183 million), equipment and stations facility needs ($149 million), and surveillance technology such as towers, radars, cameras, and sensors ($182 million).


When rubberstamped as it has been by Congress, it doesn’t always.

In fact, the DHS Inspector General found that drones are “dubious achievers” in apprehending people at the border. In fact, at the astounding amount of $12,225 per hour that it takes to operate a drone at the border, drone surveillance was credited with assisting in less than 2% of border apprehensions.

Taxpayers already foot significant border technology bills, too, and have substantially added to CBP’s inventory over the years.

Our country already spends a significant amount of money to secure its borders. CBP is the largest law enforcement agency in the country and has a budget larger than the all other federal law enforcement combined.

In addition, the dramatic downward trend of border apprehensions in the last 20 years undermines the Trump administration’s already flimsy case for a border wall and a mass deportation force consisting of the 5,000 additional border patrol agents.

Lawmakers must publicly stand against the false narrative that our southern border is out of control. The facts tell a much different story, and we deserve funding levels and policies that account for modern realities.

By Carlos Guevara, Senior Policy Advisor, UnidosUS


UnidosUS Publications: Analyzing Trump’s Immigration Budget

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