By Rev. Mary Katherine Morn on February 15, 2019
This morning, the President carried out a long-standing threat, declaring a national emergency in order to seize funds for a needless, unpopular, and immoral border wall. The move is one of his most sweeping challenges yet to U.S. constitutional norms and the democratic process. In addition to being flagrantly unlawful, Trump’s emergency declaration bypasses the constitutional spending authority of Congress and sets a dangerous precedent of creeping executive power—all to serve a policy objective that the U.S. public and its representatives have repeatedly rejected.
The emergency declaration coincided with Congress’s decision to pass a deeply flawed spending package for the remainder of fiscal year 2019. While the spending bill averted another government shutdown and only partially funded Trump’s demands for border barriers, it includes a host of provisions damaging to human rights. The final agreement not only fails to cap immigration detention, it actually increases the government’s capacity to detain immigrants and asylum-seekers by 12 percent, while upping investment in new and untested surveillance technologies at the border that pose grave privacy and civil rights concerns—particularly in the hands of enforcement agencies with a track record of racial profiling.
Moreover, the bill does nothing to prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from reprogramming funds from other sources—including disaster relief—to expand detention even further, as they have in the past. In the past year, ICE has recklessly overspent its budget in order to hold even more immigrants and asylum-seekers in a dangerous and abusive system of confinement—detaining almost 50,000 people each day, when Congress appropriated funds for 40,500. Today’s spending bill in no way discourages this behavior, and political offices are already discussing the possibility of redirecting additional funds.
Congress agreed to this dangerous compromise in large part to avoid Trump’s threatened shutdown by partially acceding to his demands. The fact that the president immediately followed this bill with a demand for emergency powers has underlined the failure and futility of this strategy of appeasement.
Over the last few months, the Trump administration has been pushing a set of immigration demands that are unjust, unpopular, and that could never be won through legitimate means. Now, Congress has rewarded that behavior. And while the final amount Congress provided for a physical barrier was less than Trump’s demand of $5.7 billion, it barely falls short of the president’s original budget request for the year. Racism and xenophobia should never be rewarded, only addressed head on and in a way that dismantles their power.
With ghoulish timing, Trump revealed his intention to make his emergency border declaration on Valentine’s Day —a holiday when many people seek to be together with and closer to their loved ones. Border barriers, immigration detention, family separations, and deportation raids have already left a trail of broken hearts across the U.S.-Mexico border this year. The added border militarization contained in Trump’s order and Congress’s spending agreement will force even more families apart. They will also compel more asylum-seekers and migrants to attempt dangerous crossings in the desert, placing their lives at risk.
Congress and the courts must move now to reverse this dangerous seizure of power before it can deal more harm to individuals, families, and communities. Love knows no walls or barriers, and the human family belongs together.
Photo Credit: TriggerPhoto (iStock)