Dear Members of Congress:
As faith leaders and faith-based organizations from many different traditions, we write out of grave concern for the House Appropriations Committee’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposals for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Together, we call on elected officials to support funding for refugee protection and resettlement, and to oppose funding for the administration's mass deportation force, for expanded immigration detention, and for border militarization. Instead of continuing unnecessary detention and dangerous deportation policies, we must carry on our nation’s proud history of hospitality and moral leadership. As people of faith, our concern stems from shared values rooted in our sacred texts that remind us to love our neighbor and welcome the sojourner among us. As Leviticus 19:33-34 reminds us: “Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.” The sacred responsibility of our government is the well-being of the human person, and we recognize the dignity and humanity of all of our immigrant community members. The United States has a proud legacy of welcoming refugees and immigrants, and we recognize the valuable contributions they bring to our communities and economy. Yet, the administration and the proposed House budgets would significantly cut funds for refugee assistance overseas and resettlement in the United States, including an almost 39% cut to programs that support local schools and successfully help refugees find employment. At the same time, the budgets target immigrants for enforcement to sweep families, people who have lived in the United States for years, into detention and place them at immediate risk of deportation. The House budget proposes an increase of $1.6 billion for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for additional new Border Patrol agents and to meet the administration's request to initiate construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall. Adding billions of dollars for CBP agents does not represent a faithful way forward.
The dramatic militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border region has already stifled the economic vitality and overall well-being of U.S. border communities. The construction of a new physical barrier or border walls serves only to harm American communities, businesses, and landowners. Border wall construction would also be exorbitant, with an estimated initial cost of $21 billion in total. The United States already protects our national security interests and upholds the integrity of our boundaries, spending more than $18 billion on immigration enforcement, more than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. New funding to expand the border wall and further militarize immigration enforcement are counterproductive, wasteful, and morally reprehensible.
The House budget would also separate families and create terror across our communities. The proposed funding would provide an additional $619.7 million for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hire 1,000 new ICE officers, significantly expand the detention and mass deportation of our immigrant neighbors, and expand the harmful 287(g) program to pressure local police to serve as federal immigration enforcement. America is safer when we pursue policies that strengthen trust and cooperation between local law enforcement and all residents, including immigrants. Many cities already recognize the deep correlation between local police opting out of enforcing ICE detainer requests and an increase in public safety, all because of the improved trust in its police force. Without the trust and cooperation of all community members, local police face challenges in investigating crimes, apprehending those truly guilty of committing crimes, and deterring potential criminal activity. In contrast, 287(g) agreements only exacerbate these challenges, as suspicion and fear of interacting with police undermines community policing efforts, makes community members reluctant to report a crime they witness or are victim to, and thus reduces public safety.
DHS has already proven that it cannot responsibly carry out its functions by targeting all undocumented immigrants, including a Methodist lay leader in Kansas, a mother in Arizona, and a beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. ICE and CBP agents have also operated with impunity for years, and it is imperative they do not receive additional funding to squander ineffectively and without transparency, accountability, or humanity. We cannot live out our sacred honor to care for the most vulnerable while hundreds of individuals are being detained and processed for deportation. Beyond the long-term damage caused by these immigration policies, funding for endless enforcement comes at the expense of vital community programs like education, housing, and nutritional assistance programs that promote public safety and alleviate poverty.
Our faith has taught and called us to welcome without discrimination and love our neighbors - including our refugee and immigrant neighbors. We stand together with our refugee and our immigrant brothers and sisters, and urge you to oppose any budget that cuts refugee resettlement funds, or funds mass detention, deportation of our immigrant neighbors, and border militarization. As communities of faith, we call on you to find compassion in your discernment process and think about the moral imperative to love our neighbor, welcome the sojourner, and care for the most vulnerable among us.
Sincerely, Faith-based Organizations