Democrats eager to take a swipe at President Trump’s deployment of federal forces to quell protests against police brutality have a new avenue of attack — the Homeland Security spending bill, which House leaders hope to bring to the floor in the coming days.
The bill has become the toughest of the 12 annual spending bills to pass, and this year’s debate is being complicated by Mr. Trump’s use of Homeland Security agents and officers to assist in trying to restore order to cities from Portland to Washington, D.C.
When it emerged from committee earlier this month, the $51 billion measure called for a 25% cut to Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s deportation force, but left Customs and Border Protection largely untouched. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to couple that bill with several other spending bills for health, education and defense programs.
But some liberal House Democrats say the events of recent days demand deeper cuts to ICE and CBP, whose officers have been among the more active federal forces in handling protests.
Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Mark Pocan said unless there are new cuts, the bill would effectively “sanction the horrific violations of human rights and due process by ICE, CBP and other agencies.”
Ms. Jayapal, from Washington, and Mr. Pocan, who represents a Wisconsin district, lead the Congressional Progressive Caucus and its membership of about 100 lawmakers could doom the bill, if Republicans also join them.
But some members are also part of the Democratic leadership team and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which gave leadership a boost by voicing its official support for the DHS funding bill.
The bill does not include “100 percent of what we want,” “but it represents a significant step toward achieving our goals,” CHC Chairman Joaquin Castro, Texas Democrat, said in a recent letter to his colleagues.
The temptation to use the spending bills to lash out at Mr. Trump is juicy, said Jonathan Adler, a professor at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law.
“Appropriations is a good source of leverage,” he said. “If the House isn’t willing to give the president the money to do some of these things, well, then the executive branch can’t do them.”
Immigrant rights advocates are cheering on the cutters, saying it’s time to curtail Homeland Security’s big enforcement agencies after years of growth and increasing complaints from the political left about their role in immigration policy.
CBP is a particular target.
“Unless Trump’s CBP stops attacking peaceful protesters around the country, and until they have real reform and meaningful accountability, Congress should not appropriate any additional money to CBP or allow CBP to move its money around,” said Ur Jaddou with the group America’s Voice.
The Homeland Security spending bill always features heated debates over funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s deportation force and detention beds, and money for the border wall, which is a CBP project.
Some Democrats said they’ll pursue amendments this year to try to rein in the administration’s ability to deploy federal agents to American cities.
“Congress must defund these secret police forces before they wreak havoc and inflame tensions in other cities,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Oregon Democrat.
Protesters and federal personnel have clashed in often violent scenes near a federal courthouse in Portland in recent weeks, and the Trump administration announced plans to expand the federal law enforcement presence into cities like Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico to respond to recent violence.
Given GOP control of the Senate and Mr. Trump’s veto powers, Democrats’ Homeland Security funding bill won’t become law. But Democrats say passing it through the full House is an important statement of the party’s values and a way to send a message of disapproval to the president.
In addition to the 25% cut from ICE’s deportation officers, the bill blocks the deportation of “Dreamers” and immigrants in the country under the Temporary Protected Status program.
The bill also cuts funding for ICE detention beds down to 10,000 during the coronavirus pandemic and down to 22,000 in normal times, which could force ICE to release many detainees back into the community.
Evan Hollander, a spokesman for Appropriations Committee Democrats, said they expect members to make more revisions to the package “so that the Trump administration’s shameful tactics using DHS employees in American cities never happen again.”
Democrats are also calling for emergency legislation to provide more funding for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a division in DHS that is funded largely through fees.
USCIS had said it was facing budget shortfalls due to coronavirus shutdowns, and would have to furlough employees early next month. On Friday the agency delayed those plans.
Mr. Castro and more than 70 other House Democrats said they want to see Congress step in with an emergency infusion of cash — with new strings attached.
“While we should appropriate any needed emergency funding, it is equally critical that we establish firm parameters and sideboards to ensure the funds are not used to intimidate or discourage immigration and to encourage the agency to develop procedures that will prevent a funding shortfall in the future,” the members said.
The House on Friday passed a four-bill, $259.5 billion package that funds foreign operations, agriculture, interior and military construction programs in fiscal 2021, taking a first step on passing legislation that would fund parts of the federal government beyond September.
The White House vowed a veto, saying Mr. Trump won’t abide restrictions the package places on his immigration and abortion policies, among other objections.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to pass any of the 12 individual appropriations bills for fiscal 2021, and lawmakers will likely have to resort to passing another stopgap bill to avert a possible shutdown in October.