Tell our Senators: Keep ICE’s hands out of the cookie jar

UPDATED September 5, 2019

Under the US Constitution and federal law, it’s the responsibility of Congress and the President to create a federal budget and spending bills. The process is complex, but one thing is clear: federal agencies shouldn’t be able to decide, on their own, how federal funds get spent, or to take money that’s been allocated for another purpose. And yet, that’s exactly what has been going on – Department of Homeland Security is essentially taking hundreds of millions of dollars from federal agencies like FEMA and giving it to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to use for Trump’s racist, deadly immigration agenda.  They deceptively call it “reprogramming and transfer authority,” but we call it sleight of hand. Or theft. Relatedly, on September 4 it was revealed that states from Virginia to Arizona will lose millions in the administration’s plan to divert $3.6 BILLION from Pentagon-funded military construction projects to build a wall along the border.

In the current budget process, the House of Representatives has passed a good DHS Appropriations bill, which sets overall spending limits by the agency. The House bill (1) puts some limitations on how ICE/Customs and Border Protection can spend its money, and (2) rescinds the DHS Secretary’s ability to move money from any part of DHS (such as FEMA) to CBP and ICE Enforcement and Removal. 

Now it’s the Senate’s turn. Senators Feinstein and Harris both signed a letter to the Senate Committee on Appropriations supporting reduced funding for the administration’s immigration and detention agenda, and opposing ICE’s reprogramming and transfer authority. But they need to hear from us, because there will be pressure for the Senate to come up with a bipartisan bill. Tell our Senators you want reduced funding for ICE and CBP, and an end to ICE’s “reprogramming and transfer” authority. Also: Indivisible’s “Defund Hate” week of action is September 9-13, and we have lots going on: check out our article and plan to join us and our partners for crafting, calling, rallying, and more!

Read on for a call script and contact info; and below that, for more information and resources.

What to do:

1. Contact our Senators, tell them you want reduced funding for ICE and CBP, and an end to ICE’s “reprogramming and transfer” authority.

What to say:

My name is _________, my zip code is _________, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I want to thank the Senator for opposing the administration’s horrible immigration agenda, and also opposing ICE’s reprogramming and transfer authority. I hope the Senator will work for a DHS appropriations bill like the one passed by the House. We need a bill with protections for immigrants and an end to using all of DHS as a slush fund for immigrant detention, deportation, and abuse.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: email (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: email (415) 981-9369 • DC: (202) 224-3553

 

2. Check out Indivisible National’s “Defund Hate” campaign and mark your calendars for their September 9-13 Week of Action. If you text Defund Hate to 977-79, Indy National will send you the latest updates on our plan for the Week of Action, including telling you when events are registered near you. And be on the lookout for IEB and partners’ action items coming your way!

3. Spread the word! Got friends outside California? Send them this link so they can contact their Members of Congress.

 

More information: 

As if the administration’s immigration policy weren’t devastating enough in terms of the threat to life and health, last year, just as hurricane season was about to start, ICE raided $10 million from FEMA (the agency responsible for coordinating disaster response efforts). This year they’re raiding $155 million from FEMA and a total of over $270 million from agencies dealing in safety. And remember when Trump declared a national emergency so he could build his wall? That money he wanted – billions of dollars – was to be transferred from other agencies to which Congress had budgeted it. That, in a nutshell, is how “reprogramming and transfer” is happening – Congress budgets money for things that are not Trump’s immigration and detention program, and then he and DHS sneak in or bully their way in and take it anyway.

This ability to steal money that isn’t theirs lets ICE make a mockery of Congress. Congress appropriates money to the various parts of the government? Meaningless! Congress tells ICE to decrease immigrant detention to a specific level? Not happening – ICE thinks it’s above the law.

This budget cycle the Democratic House of Representatives is working to put a stop to these shenanigans with an appropriations bill for DHS that approaches the problem from several angles, such as:

  • Prohibits construction of border barriers, except with funds appropriated for that purpose.
  • Prohibits funding transfers to ICE Operations and Support for Enforcement and Removal Operations.
  • Prohibits ICE from removing sponsors of unaccompanied children based on information provided by the Office of Refugee Resettlement as part of the sponsor’s application to accept custody of the child.
  • Limits future detention facility contracts or renewals from having an indefinite period of availability. 
  • Ensures access by Members of Congress to detention facilities.

California’s Senators have spoken out in favor of curbing funding for ICE and CBP and in favor of “language limiting the DHS Secretary’s ability to transfer funds for the purpose of detaining immigrants.” While not as strong as the House version, that’s pretty good. But the appropriations process is about to heat up in the Senate, and at this point in the proceedings there will be pressure on the Senate to come up with a bipartisan bill – meaning that it’s going to take support from us to keep our Senators fighting to keep ICE’s hands off money we don’t want them to have.

Bottom line: If we don’t want the administration to keep stealing millions of dollars that we need for health and safety and other critical issues that Congress has budgeted it for, we need to act NOW.

Resources:

 

Graphic “Money” by TaxCredits.net, edited by Heidi Rand.
FEMA logo.

December 2018 meeting with Feinstein staff

On December 10, 2018, Indivisible East Bay had our first meeting with Senator Feinstein’s new interim state director Peter Muller. We met field representative Abby Ellis in the senator’s San Francisco office and Peter, who is based in Los Angeles, joined us by phone.

While climate change is always a high priority for IEB and usually makes our meeting agendas in some form, it’s rarely at the very top of our memo — mainly because that space is generally filled by a reaction to the latest crisis coming out of the White House. So it was a promising sign of the power shift in DC that we started with a discussion of the Green New Deal (GND). Peter said that while Sen. Feinstein isn’t yet familiar with the details of the Green New Deal proposal, as far as he could tell she’s generally supportive of the program and would invest more time in learning about it once it’s a bit further advanced in the House.

We brought up the plan Feinstein supports to extend certain controversial provisions in the WIIN Act, a water bill which, among other things, diverts water south of the Delta. We shared our concerns that the extension of those provisions could result in harm the Delta ecosystem, but Peter said that Sen. Feinstein’s office has examined the matter carefully and doesn’t believe the provisions have been harmful so far or will become so if extended.

We also talked about asylum seekers at the California-Mexico border and those being detained (along with other immigrants) throughout the state. Sen. Feinstein still wants to visit the detention facilities herself, but doesn’t yet have plans to do so. Meanwhile, her staff has visited every facility in California in which immigrants are detained, as well as some in Texas. But it’s been hard to perform oversight, because the facilities know they are coming and are able to prepare. Sen. Feinstein continues to work on getting legislation ready to pass at the earliest opportunity. (First we need to elect more Democrats.) We asked her to prioritize addressing the seemingly unnecessary “metering” at ports of entry that is causing a humanitarian crisis in which asylum seekers are forced to choose between waiting in overflowing shelters in Mexico — with complete uncertainty about having their claims heard — or attempting dangerous, illegal crossings and turning themselves in at understaffed remote outposts. And meanwhile we asked her to look at ways she could collaborate with the House concerning funding for immigration enforcement, particularly with respect to making sure the executive branch spends the money in the way Congress intended.

We discussed delays in funding transit projects — Sen. Feinstein does her best to advocate for projects in California but doesn’t have much influence otherwise; Attorney General nominee William Barr — she shares our concerns about his civil rights record and biases; judiciary appointments — Republicans are happy with how this is going. so we are likely to see more of the same; and homelessness — she has a bill ready and is looking for a Republican co-sponsor.

Finally, we asked what the senator’s hopes and dreams are for working with our new blue House. Peter listed:

  • Immigration
  • Gun Control – Peter said that Sen. Feinstein saw a strong opportunity for a bump stock ban (which the White House announced only days later)
  • Environment
  • Homelessness
  • Immigration enforcement oversight
  • Appropriations – put more constraints on the administration
  • Health care
  • 2016 election investigation – help her better leverage her position on the Judiciary Committee