As Congress returns from summer recess, the vote on President Donald Trump’s proposed Department of Homeland Security budget to build a wall separating us from our neighbors in Mexico looms large on our horizon.
Trump’s obsession over the wall has been well reported, but his budget also includes an equally sinister campaign to grow his deportation force and expand the mass incarceration of immigrants.
U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., has been a vocal critic of President Trump’s plan to expand the border wall and carry out mass deportation by unleashing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents into communities. As Sen. Udall has noted, the president’s plans are inhumane, bad for public health, the economy and public safety.
However, being a true champion for border communities also means rejecting more unaccountable border agents. Instead, Udall has regrettably expressed support to grow the size of U.S. Border Patrol and remained silent on whether to further bloat the budgets of the very federal agencies that terrorize immigrant families and racially profile New Mexicans at interior checkpoints located far into the interior of the country.
Specifically, President Trump’s proposed budget seeks to grow ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection by 20 percent, adding 1,500 heavily armed ICE and Border Patrol agents and enough ICE detention beds (51,000 people per day) to lock up nearly the equivalent of Albuquerque’s entire population over the course of a year. This is on top of already record-level spending that converted U.S. Customs and Border Protection into our nation’s largest police force and rushed to double the number of poorly trained border agents in less than a decade, resulting in rates of corruption and sexual abuse that outpaced other federal agencies.
If history is any indication, expanding the size of these agencies will have deadly consequences for border residents, people on the move and the thousands of immigrants who find themselves behind bars, many in privately run jails.
In addition to the human and moral cost, building a wall and hiring more agents is out of sync with the realities of the border. Border apprehensions remain at a 17-year low, and Homeland Security’s own inspector general recently concluded neither CBP nor ICE could provide complete data to support Trump’s hiring goals.
To be sure, we all want to live in safe communities, but the Trump administration hasn’t been about solutions when it comes to protecting our values in policing. Left unchecked, Trump’s deportation force has unapologetically intimidated victims and witnesses of crimes from accessing justice in New Mexico courtrooms and severed New Mexico families — children losing their parents, husbands losing their wives.
These actions make our communities less safe for everyone. Instead of funding agencies that threaten our families, we need to fund the resources our families rely on like school lunches, Head Start and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.
Ultimately, Trump’s border wall obsession was never about rational national security policy, but about playing on people’s fears. As a border state, New Mexico has a unique story to tell about how we are better, as a people, when we welcome our neighbors and embrace our differences.
If we take the bait on Trump’s unwise and divisive anti-immigrant agenda, we’ll make our country weaker, not stronger. We’re strongest when everyone’s basic rights and dignity are respected, and now, more than ever, protecting basic fairness requires that we speak out against discrimination and prejudice when we see it.
Money is one of the only barriers to Trump’s Homeland Security fully enacting its hate-fueled detention and deportation regime. Congress needs to stop Trump’s attack on families by voting “no” to increased funding for more boots, more beds and more walls. To get there, Sen. Udall needs to speak boldly against the discriminatory policing and mass incarceration that comes with Trump’s wall — his silence is deafening.
Brian Erickson is the ACLU of New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights’ Border Policy Strategist in Las Cruces.