When President Obama announced last week that he was going to take executive action on immigration because immigration reform in Congress was dead and because of the tens of thousands of Central American unaccompanied minors just then arriving at our border, many non-profits heard something different than what the president actually said. One organization even went so far as to call Obama’s announcement being about “administrative relief.”
What Obama actually said last week was that the first thing he was doing was asking Congress for $2 billion to divert attention from interior immigration enforcement to the border. The rest – the promise of relief, the possible expansion of DACA, the keeping together of families – is something to wait for from the Department of Homeland Security.
Meanwhile, as many non-profit organizations and so called advocacy organizations continue to focus on what Obama could do, there is not enough attention to what he actually is doing.
This week the $2 billion ask became $3.7 billion to deal with the crisis. There is little humanitarianism in that $3.7 billion dollars. According the White House $1.8 billion of that will go to Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide care for the children, freeing up more money for Border Patrol. From the White House Press Fact Sheet released today: “The proposal would also support the ongoing HHS medical response activities for unaccompanied children to address the surge at Border Patrol facilities.” In other words, care that Border Patrol should be funding itself will be coming instead from money earmarked for HHS. The rest of the 3.7 billion is specifically for deterrence, enforcement and “foreign cooperation.”
How the White House defines these terms is interesting. Deterrence means “increased detainment and removal of adults with children and increased immigration court capacity to speed cases.” For an administration that has always claimed that keeping families together is a priority, there is not one line item to actually make this a possibility in the case of these unaccompanied minors. For example, instead of money for social workers to help find relatives of children who may be in the United States to help care for the children, instead the “$879 million would pay for detention and removal of apprehended undocumented adults traveling with children, expansion of alternatives to detention programs for these individuals, and additional prosecution capacity for adults with children who cross the border unlawfully.”
Enforcement means, according to the Office of Management and Budget that the $879 million will be used for “the detention, prosecution, and removal of apprehended undocumented families.” $109 million would provide for immigration and customs enforcement efforts, including expanding the Border Enforcement Security Task Force program, doubling the size of vetted units in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and expanding investigatory activities by ICE Homeland Security Investigations.”
In other words, this money is intended to have a chilling effect reaching far beyond just these children. It really is an expansion of border enforcement in general as was outlined in the often-praised “compromise” bill that passed in the Senate last summer. Remember, that immigration reform bill had certain border enforcement triggers that needed to be met before anyone in the country could adjust their status. It seems like we are getting those border enforcement triggers without any actual assistance to undocumented communities, be they the kids or families already here.
Enforcement also likely means “$29 million for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to expand its role in Border Enforcement Security Task Force programs, increasing information-sharing and collaboration among the participating law enforcement agencies combating transnational crime.” This collaboration has been seen in programs like Secure Communities. Information sharing happens via Fusion Centers which, according to the Department of Homeland Security, are “primary focal points within the state and local environment for the receipt, analysis, gathering, and sharing of threat-related information among federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) partners.” In other words there will be more funding for surveillance. If that isn’t clear enough, $39.4 million is earmarked “to increase air surveillance capabilities that would support 16,526 additional flight hours for border surveillance and 16 additional crews for unmanned aerial systems to improve detection and interdiction of illegal activity.” In other words drones.
While 64 million dollars is being put into adding more immigration judges to expedite removal proceedings and expanding legal representation for children in proceedings, there are also allocations that have a direct impact in Central America. “$295 million would support efforts to repatriate and reintegrate migrants to Central America,” meaning more money is being spent to send people back rather than making sure people here receive due process.
Another $5 million would support “State Department media campaigns in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, targeting potential migrants and their families.” This so-called preventative measure does little to improve conditions in Central America, caused in part by existing U.S. drug and free trade policies as well as the historic political and military legacy connected to past U.S. interventions in the region.
Allegedly, some of these funds will be used for “youth programs to develop skills and leadership among potential migrants.” What that actually means – including who will run and monitor these programs – is unanswered.
Maegan Ortiz writes for the blog VivirLatino, where this commentary originally appeared.