While he’s still waiting for Mexico to agree to pay for his “big, beautiful” border wall, President Donald Trump is asking for $1.6 billion for, as Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney put it, the barrier’s “bricks and mortar.” An unnamed source told CNN that the money requested in the newly released 2018 budget proposal would cover just a few dozen miles of wall.
The proposed wall spending represents a significant portion of the more than $4.5 billion the White House is requesting for immigration enforcement and a border protection package whose wish list ranges from communications equipment and surveillance technology to aircraft and weapons. It also includes $1.5 billion to expand its efforts to detain and deport undocumented immigrants, as well as $300 million to recruit, hire, and train 1,500 new immigration agents, a step toward Trump’s call to add 10,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and 5,000 Customs and Border Protection agents. (According to CBP estimates, it would likely take as long as a decade to pull off hiring as many people as Trump wants, and it would have to ease the hiring standards to do so.)
Under Trump’s budget, the Department of Justice would get $7.2 million to hire 70 new prosecutors “to support an increase in immigration law enforcement” and focus on serious crimes committed by immigrants, as well as immigration-related offenses such as reentry after deportation. To help clear the years-long backlog in the immigration courts—there are currently 542,000 pending cases before 301 judges—the DOJ would also receive $75 million to hire 75 new immigration judges and support staff.
However, Trump’s immigration offers little assistance to immigrants who seek to enter the United States legally—many of whom have recently been turned back at the border. As highlighted by Human Rights First, a nonprofit human rights organization, the proposed budget includes cuts to the Migration and Refugee Assistance Account, the International Disaster Assistance Account, and the Refugee and Entrants Assistant Account, “all of which provide vital funding for refugees and victims of violence and persecution seeking safety.” Jennifer Quigley, an advocacy strategist at Human Rights First, said in a statement that “a massive overuse of immigration detention and erecting multiple barriers to entry fly in the face of US legal and treaty obligations to provide access to protection to refugees seeking asylum.”
The beefed-up immigration budget proposal lands at a time when apprehensions at the border are at their lowest levels since the 1970s, and when the total population of unauthorized migrants is on the decline. ICE recently claimed that nearly 75 percent of the 41,300 immigrants arrested during Trump’s first 100 days were criminals. Later it was revealed that only six percent of them had convictions for violent crimes and the fastest growing category of arrests was immigrants with no convictions at all.