Considering the U.S./Mexico border is the most militarized it has ever been, a proposal to slash border surveillance technology would normally be welcome news, especially if those funds were then diverted to lifesaving programs like CHIP, which provides children with health insurance. But unfortunately it’s the Trump administration we’re dealing with here, which means that the slashed funds aren’t going to children’s health care, but instead to fund Donald Trump’s racist border wall that Mexico was never going to pay for. But there’s more, because according to information provided by a whistleblower to Democrats from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, this “pro-law enforcement” administration also wants to reject pay increases for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents in order to pay for construction. Merry Christmas, guys:
The report, which the staffers said was based on information provided to them by "a whistleblower" in late November, said the White House Office of Management and Budget told DHS to boost its projected spending on border wall construction for the 2019 fiscal year to $1.6 billion, an amount that would be "$700 million more than the Department's original budget request."
The $1.6 billion would be used to build additional physical barriers in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, the border's busiest sector for illegal immigration. To offset some of the costs, OMB instructed DHS to decrease its funding request for border security technology and equipment by nearly $175 million, the report said.
"OMB acknowledged that reductions to RVSS technology are necessary 'to offset the costs of Presidential priorities,' " the report said.
The cuts include a 50 percent spending reduction on Remote Video Surveillance Systems, the network of video cameras Border Patrol agents rely on heavily to monitor illegal border traffic. The mobile cameras have infrared technology that allows them to track smugglers and illegal border-crossers at night.
“DHS was also told to strike tens of millions in requests for the boats, helicopters, dirigibles, planes and other equipment that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) uses to detect and track low-flying aircraft, smugglers' vessels and illegal traffic along the border,” reports the Chicago Tribune. It’s a fact that this kind of high-tech surveillance leads to increased migrant deaths, because people crossing the border seek more dangerous, isolated terrain in order to avoid detection. Due to a combination of border militarization and anti-immigrant fear mongering, arrests for border crossings are at a 46-year low. It doesn’t make sense to throw more tax dollars at surveillance that only hurts people, and it also doesn’t make sense to throw tax dollars at a wasteful wall that we don’t need and won’t work anyway.
According to Buzzfeed, the White House Office of Management and Budget “also told DHS to hire 1,000 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents than it had requested, for a total of 2,000 agents in fiscal year 2019. The agency had originally asked for funds to hire only 1,000 ICE agents.” When it comes to Border Patrol, the administration’s request is actively undermining them:
The Border Patrol is losing more agents per year than it hires and has not filled every open position, the report said. Between fiscal year 2013 and 2016, 523 agents were hired, but during the same time 904 agents were lost. To improve retention, DHS asked for a pay increase for law enforcement officers including Border Patrol agents.
However, OMB told DHS to decrease its budget request by millions of dollars to comply with a government-wide pay freeze mandated by President Trump — a request that Democrats on the Senate Homeland Security committee claim will make it harder for US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to attract and retain border agents, especially compared to ICE.
“The implementation of a pay freeze will do little to incentivize law enforcement personnel at DHS components, who already face demanding jobs in often dangerous conditions, to continue their employment with DHS,” one report said. “The implementation of a pay freeze may mean that qualified applicants will increasingly look to employers outside the federal government for employment.”
But immigrant rights advocates know all too well what kind of thugs Border Patrol can attract. “Last year, a Department of Homeland Security report found that corrupt border agents are such an urgent problem, they ‘pose a national security threat,’ and called for more aggressive measures to root them out”:
Though the number of corrupt agents represents less than 1 percent of CBP’s 44,000 sworn officers—the largest police force in the U.S.—“any amount is bad, and one person alone can do a lot of damage,” John Roth, the inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security, told The New York Times. “It doesn’t have to be widespread.”
Corrupt officials have given sensitive information to cartels, and waved tons of drugs and thousands of undocumented immigrants through the border in exchange for millions of dollars in bribes. Many operate at official ports of entry, undermining the billions of dollars the government has already spent on fencing, drones, radar, surveillance blimps, agents, and now, perhaps, President Trump’s border wall.
In the end, remember that it’s not national security or public safety that this administration cares about: it’s about chest puffing and fear mongering at the expense of immigrant families. Here’s Drew Pusateri, spokesperson for Democrats from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee: "When [Sen. Claire McCaskill] visited the border earlier this year, she was told by many of the folks she spoke with along the front lines that technology needs were their highest priority, not a border wall. So it's a concern to see technology funding reprogrammed for wall funding that wasn't even requested by the department itself.”