Beyond the wall: The White House wish list for immigration funding

Ahead of President Trump’s prime time Oval Office address Tuesday, the White House issued a press release outlining a variety of additional funding demands from Congress to address what Trump has described as a “the security and humanitarian crises” on the southern border.

The new proposals reflected requests outlined in a letter to lawmakers by Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought following negotiations over the weekend. In addition to $5.7 billion Trump has requested for the construction of a steel barrier along 234 unspecified miles of the southwest border, the request calls for an billions of dollars in  additional funding for a variety of border-related projects, including expanding immigration detention facilities to their largest-ever size and new inspection technology to “deter and detect narcotics, weapons, and other materials that pose a threat to the United States.”

The White House email presents the additional funds as necessary to secure what President Trump and administration officials insist is a border “overwhelmed with illegal immigration, gang violence, crime, drugs, and human trafficking.”

In fact, after reaching a record low during Trump’s first year in office, illegal immigration across the border with Mexico returned to 2016 levels last year. Border states report no big surge in crime and most illegal drugs, by far, are smuggled into the country by air, sea, tunnels or hidden in cars and trucks at official ports of entry.

Yahoo News spoke to various immigration advocates and border policy experts about the latest requests. Some of the proposals were well-received, such as “$800 million to fund enhanced medical support, transportation, consumable supplies, and additional temporary facilities necessary to ensure the well-being of those taken into custody,” programs that promise to further crack down on weapons and narcotics smuggling, and President Trump’s willingness to “work with Congress to facilitate expanded in-country processing of refugee claims.” Others, like the request for record number of detention beds and a surge in immigration enforcement agents elicited reactions ranging from suspicion to concern to outrage.

The consensus was that the request showed how the Trump administration’s own policies have resulted in a manufactured crisis on the border, raising questions about the justification for its new spending demands.

“Nothing in here is necessary to solve the border crisis created by the president’s bad policies,” said Alex Nowresteh, a senior immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

19 PHOTOS
Migrants in Tijuana trickling over and under the border wall
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Migrants in Tijuana trickling over and under the border wall
Honduran migrant Joel Mendez, 22, passes his eight-month-old son Daniel through a hole under the U.S. border wall to his partner, Yesenia Martinez, 24, who had already crossed in Tijuana, Mexico, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. Moments later Martinez surrendered to waiting border guards while Mendez stayed behind in Tijuana to work, saying he feared he'd be deported if he crossed. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Central American migrants planning to surrender to U.S. border patrol agents climb over the U.S. border wall from Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, late Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. Thousands of migrants are living in crowded tent cities in the Mexican city of Tijuana after undertaking a grueling, weeks-long journey to the U.S. border. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
In a photo taken from Playas of Tijuana, Mexico, Honduran migrants climb over a section of the U.S. border fence before handing themselves in to border control agents, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. A steady trickle of Central American migrants have been finding ways to climb over, tunnel under or slip through the U.S. border wall to plant their feet on U.S. soil and ask for asylum. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Honduran migrants who jumped the border wall to the U.S. side, help other members of their families to jump the wall, in Tijuana, Mexico, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. Thousands of migrants who traveled via caravan are seeking asylum in the United States, but face a decision between waiting months or crossing illegally, because the U.S. government only processes a limited number of cases a day at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Honduran migrant Joel Mendez, 22, feeds his eight-month-old son Daniel as his partner Yesenia Martinez, 24, crawls through a hole under the U.S. border wall, in Tijuana, Mexico, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. Moments later Martinez surrendered to waiting border guards while Mendez stayed behind in Tijuana to work, saying he feared he'd be deported if he crossed. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Yesenia Martinez, 24, carries her eight-month-old son Daniel as she looks for a place to cross the U.S. border wall to surrender to border patrol and request asylum, in Tijuana, Mexico, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. Martinez surrendered to waiting border guards while her partner Joel Mendez stayed behind in Tijuana to work, saying he feared he'd be deported if he crossed. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
A woman climbs the U.S. border wall, planning to surrender to U.S. Border Patrol agents and apply for asylum, as she crosses from Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. Often within minutes, border guards quickly arrive to escort migrants to detention centers and begin "credible fear" interviews. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
A woman holding a baby peers through the U.S. border fence as she tries to reach a point where scores of migrants have been crossing in recent days, now blocked by private security, in Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. Legal groups argue that federal law states that immigrants can apply for asylum no matter how they enter U.S. territory. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Honduran migrant Leivi Ortega, 22, wearing a rosary, looks at her phone while she, her partner and their young daughter, wait in hopes of finding an opportunity to cross the U.S. border from Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. In early December, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said that the San Diego sector experienced a "slight uptick" in families entering the U.S. illegally with the goal of seeking asylum. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Yesenia Martinez, 24, reaches back from the San Diego, California side of the U.S. border wall to get her baby's bottle, after crossing underneath from Tijuana, Mexico, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. Martinez is among a wave of Central Americans getting past the imposing barrier between Mexico and California and expediting their asylum claims by readily handing themselves over to U.S. agents. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
A Honduran migrant helps a young girl cross to the American side of the border wall, in Tijuana, Mexico, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. In November, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation suspending asylum rights for people who try to cross into the U.S. illegally from Mexico, although a divided U.S. appeals court has refused to immediately allow the Trump administration to enforce the ban. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Salvadoran migrant Cesar Jobet, right, and Daniel Jeremias Cruz hide from U.S. border agents after they dug a hole in the sand under the border wall and crossed over to the U.S. side, in Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. When the two youths were detected by agents they ran back to the Mexican side. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A Honduran migrant walks with his son in his arms after jumping the U.S. border wall with plans to turn himself over to U.S. border patrol agents in order to apply for asylum, seen from Tijuana, Mexico, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. In twos or threes, or sometimes by the dozen, migrants arrive at the U.S. border wall and manage to cross over. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A Honduran migrant walks with his son in his arms after jumping the wall to the U.S that separates Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, in Tijuana, Mexico, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. Aid workers and humanitarian organizations expressed concerns Thursday about the unsanitary conditions at the sports complex in Tijuana where more than 6,000 Central American migrants are packed into a space adequate for half that many people and where lice infestations and respiratory infections are rampant. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A Honduran migrant walks with his son in his arms after jumping the wall to the U.S that separates Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, in Tijuana, Mexico, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. Aid workers and humanitarian organizations expressed concerns Thursday about the unsanitary conditions at the sports complex in Tijuana where more than 6,000 Central American migrants are packed into a space adequate for half that many people and where lice infestations and respiratory infections are rampant. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
A Honduran migrant walks after jumping the wall to the U.S that separates Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, in Tijuana, Mexico, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. Aid workers and humanitarian organizations expressed concerns Thursday about the unsanitary conditions at the sports complex in Tijuana where more than 6,000 Central American migrants are packed into a space adequate for half that many people and where lice infestations and respiratory infections are rampant. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In a photo taken from the Tijuana, Mexico, side of the border wall, a guard on the U.S. side, at left, watches Honduran migrants jump the wall into the United States, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. Thousands of migrants who traveled via caravan are seeking asylum in the U.S., but face a decision between waiting months or crossing illegally, because the U.S. government only processes a limited number of cases a day at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In a photo taken from the Tijuana, Mexico, side of the border, two immigrants on U.S. soil try to jump the second wall before border police arrived and arrested them, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. Thousands of migrants who traveled via caravan are seeking asylum in the U.S., but face a decision between waiting months or crossing illegally, because the U.S. government only processes a limited number of cases a day at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
In a photo taken from the Tijuana, Mexico, side of the border wall, a U.S. Border Patrol agent is seen as Honduran migrants who jumped the wall surrender on the U.S. side, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. Thousands of migrants who traveled via caravan are seeking asylum in the U.S., but face a decision between waiting months or crossing illegally, because the U.S. government only processes a limited number of cases a day at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
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Nowresteh singled out as one example the request for $211 million to hire 750 additional Border Patrol agents. He dismissed assertions by CBP officials that agents on the ground are understaffed and overwhelmed by the situation at the border. While the numbers of children and families presenting themselves at southwest border have been on the rise, overall apprehension numbers remain at historic lows.

“Every government agency in history has claimed they’re short-staffed,” said Nowresteh.

“The reason why these agents are so busy right now is because the Trump administration is requiring them to work with rest of government to vet these people to an insane degree when they ask for asylum, make them stay on other side of border in Mexico for weeks or months, and have to house them, according to administration’s policy, in detention facilities for long periods of time.”

“The Administration has given them more work to do even though the numbers are totally manageable,” he concluded.

Some policy experts endorsed the White House call for at least $563 million for 75 additional Immigration judges and support staff to reduce the backlog of pending immigration cases, acknowledging that the result may ultimately be to more quickly facilitate more deportations. Nowrasteh and Randy Capps, director of research for U.S. programs at the Migration Policy Institute, said hiring additional immigration judges and support staff would help clear the backlog of over 800,000 cases currently pending in immigration courts.

“The crisis that we have is not a border security crisis as much as it is an asylum system crisis because it takes forever for people to have asylum claims adjudicated,” said MPI’s Capps. “A lot more needs to be done to resolve that, but hiring more immigration judges will help.”

But others, like Gregory Chen, Director of Government Relation at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and ACLU federal immigration policy counsel Madhuri Grewal, criticized the request for more funds for immigration judges as disingenuous, citing a variety of actions the administration has taken — particularly under the direction of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions — to restrict immigration judges’ discretion their dockets and, they suspect, hamper the court’s efficiency.

According to immigration data collected by Syracuse’s Transactional Records Clearing House, or TRAC, the immigration court backlog nearly doubled within the first year of Trump’s presidency and has continued to grow in the initial months of fiscal year 2019. Chen added that the immigration court backlog has been exacerbated by the partial government shutdown, with the Justice Department cancelling all scheduled court hearings for non-detained individuals, who make up the vast majority of people in immigration court.

“Immigration court is a fundamental, critical aspect of the [immigration] process…and the administration has shut it down,” said Chen. “The fact that the administration is asking for more funds [for immigration court] illuminates the hypocrisy of its overall requests for a border wall and this additional funding.”

The items on the White House wish list hat raised greatest concerns were those that didn’t seem directly connected to border security at all: “$571 million for 2,000 additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel to enforce immigration laws, combat gang violence, catch drug smugglers and stop human traffickers” and “$4.2 billion to increase immigration detention capacity inside the U.S. to a record 52,000 beds.

27 PHOTOS
US troops sent to border by Trump in anticipation of migrant caravans
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US troops sent to border by Trump in anticipation of migrant caravans
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
In this photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, soldiers from the the 89th Military Police Brigade, and 41st Engineering Company, 19th Engineering Battalion, Fort Riley, Kan., arrive at Valley International Airport, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018, in Harlingen, Texas, to conduct the first missions along the southern border in support of Operation Faithful Patriot. The soldiers will provide a range of support including planning assistance, engineering support, equipment and resources to assist the Department of Homeland Security along the Southwest border. (Alexandra Minor/U.S. Air Force via AP)
Razor wire recently placed by the U.S.military along the banks of the Rio Grande frames the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge at the U.S.-Mexico border, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military tour the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Razor wire recently placed by the U.S.military along the banks of the Rio Grande frames the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge at the U.S.-Mexico border, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Onlookers watch as members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Pedestrians pass members of the U.S. military working to place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Razor wire recently placed by the U.S.military along the banks of the Rio Grande frames the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge at the U.S.-Mexico border, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Razor wire recently placed by the U.S.military along the banks of the Rio Grande frames the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge at the U.S.-Mexico border, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S. military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border near the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border near the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border near the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border near the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Pedestrians pass members of the U.S.military working to place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
A member of the U.S.military cuts fencing at the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge as they work to place razor wire in the area, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border near the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border near the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border near the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Members of the U.S.military place razor wire along the U.S.-Mexico border on the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
In this photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, soldiers from the the 89th Military Police Brigade, and 41st Engineering Company, 19th Engineering Battalion, Fort Riley, Kan., arrive at Valley International Airport, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018, in Harlingen, Texas, to conduct the first missions along the southern border in support of Operation Faithful Patriot. The soldiers will provide a range of support including planning assistance, engineering support, equipment and resources to assist the Department of Homeland Security along the Southwest border. (Alexandra Minor/U.S. Air Force via AP)
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“This administration has continued to increase use of detention in thousands of cases when it has been demonstrated that detention not necessary,” said Chen, criticizing the administration’s “unbridled willingness” to use detention as a deterrent for migrants including those with legitimate asylum claims.

“There’s no reason that this administration needs to be seeking this incredibly high level of funding for 52,000 detention beds,” said the ACLU’s Grewal. “On any given day, 52,000 immigrants should not be in detention,” arguing that increasing detention only serves to increase deportation numbers and to “feed into the narrative that we have to lock them up.”

Capps pointed out that both the 2,000 additional ICE agents and 52,000-bed detention capacity have previously been part of the president’s annual budget requests and, even under a Republican controlled congress, they’ve been denied.

“It’s like he shoehorned them into the request,” said Capps, suggesting that the president is now trying “to force Congress to approve things they wouldn’t support before.”

“This is extortion,” said Simon Rosenberg, a longtime Democratic strategist and founder of the New Democratic Network, a progressive Washington think tank.  Rosenberg argued that, regardless of the details, what’s most outrageous is the method by which Trump is making these requests.

“He knows what he wants to do is never going to pass Congress, so he’s creating a mechanism to go around Congress, which is this government shutdown,” said Rosenberg.

“What is missing from the president’s demands is any kind of justification that any of this is actually needed,” he continued, arguing that despite repeated claims of immigration crisis, the administration has yet to provide reliable evidence “that the border is weaker than it was a year ago….no data to show massive increase in flow of narcotics, no data showing massive increase of people coming over border.”

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