Demand a federal budget that lives up to nation's values

Trump Jerusalem
President Trump speaks at a press conference during his recent overseas trip.

Budgets are moral documents. They reflect our national priorities, our visions for the future, our investments in our children. They can also reflect fear, bias, and disinvestment from the institutions that create healthy, strong communities.

Unfortunately, unless you happen to be a defense contractor or own stock in a private prison company, President Trump's budget proposal is a roadmap toward a bleak future.

In his 2018 budget request to Congress, Trump asked for $44.1 billion for the Department of Homeland Security, much of which would go toward enforcing his anti-immigrant campaign promises and executive orders. In that same budget, he slashes $1.7 trillion from programs that provide essential public services, including health care and food access.

Trump's proposal includes $ 2.6 billion for border wall construction, surveillance technology deployment, and infrastructure development. It also includes more than $300 million to recruit and train 1,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and 500 additional Customs and Border Protection agents, with no plan to remedy the history of impunity within the agency or address the needs of border communities who have asked for additional oversight and accountability mechanisms. And it includes a $1.5 billion increase for detention and deportation. The Department of Justice also received a $214 million increase for immigration enforcement, to expedite deportation proceedings.

If passed, this funding would provide the financial backing for the president's executive orders targeting immigrants. In addition to building an extremely expensive and unnecessary wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, funds would go toward expanding abusive and inhumane immigration detention as well as a program that deputizes local police to serve as federal immigration enforcement agents. These policies do not make anyone safer, instead they tear apart families and instill fear in immigrant communities.

The additional funding for detention and deportation would maintain a daily average of 51,379 federal detention beds. This is an increase of more than 17,000 from previous years, and indicates a disturbing willingness to increase the already massive number of people who are in detention and further militarize our border communities. This expansion will only cause further suffering and death in our borderlands.

While these policies hit immigrants the hardest, they are not the only ones who should be worried. All this money must come from somewhere, and under Trump's proposed budget it is coming from sweeping and unprecedented cuts to programs that provide housing, transportation, healthcare, education, and environmental protection.

The budget proposal decimates social safety net programs, cutting $800 billion from Medicaid and $192 billion from food assistance across 10 years. In Pennsylvania alone, more than 1.8 million people rely on food assistance to meet their basic nutritional needs. Under this proposal, many will go hungry. And where our state already struggles to adequately fund our public schools, the budget proposal also reduces the Education Department by $9.2 billion, cutting or eliminating programs for student loan support, teacher training, class-size reduction, and literacy.

Fortunately, communities across the country are standing up for their rights and demanding a different set of priorities from their elected leaders. The American Friends Service Committee - headquartered here in Philadelphia for 100 years - has successfully mobilized to pass school board resolutions protecting immigrant students in Miami, has helped people facing deportation take sanctuary in churches in Denver and Albuquerque, and has led know-your-rights efforts in San Diego, Newark, Portland, and Des Moines. And we are working to create "sanctuary everywhere," to promote the simple idea that everyday people can come together to keep each other safe, in schools and churches, on the street and at home.

It's time for Congress to do their part too. Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) sits on the Senate Budget Committee, and he and his colleagues can use their "power of the purse" to ensure that billions of dollars don't go toward expanding immigration enforcement, separating families, or detaining children. Instead, that funding should go toward the vital education, housing, and nutritional assistance programs that promote public safety and alleviate poverty. Now is our chance to tell members of Congress to live up to our values and act with moral authority.

The U.S. system of mass detention and deportation already violates basic human rights and dignity, devastates families, causes thousands of deaths, and terrorizes communities on the border and across the country. Whether it's for a border wall, for detention, or for immigration enforcement, it is essential that Congress members vote against any additional funds for the Department of Homeland Security and instead fund our essential human needs.

Together, we can demand a budget that supports the livelihoods and lives of all the residents of this country. As a Quaker who believes in "that of God in everyone," I believe this is not only just, but a moral necessity.

Lucy Duncan is the director of Friends Relations for the American Friends Service Committee and a member of Green Street Friends Meeting. LDuncan@afsc.org

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