Posted by Ryan J. Suto on August 09, 2017 in Blog
On Wednesday, August 9 AAI held a Congressional Briefing entitled "Trump’s Proposed Budget Increases: Civil Rights Protections at Risk." The event followed a previous AAI Congressional discussion about Trump’s proposed budget cuts. The speakers at the event detailed how the Trump administration has requested to both shift funding and add funding to specific areas of law enforcement which would give teeth to candidate Trump’s campaign rhetoric leading up to the 2016 presidential election.
On criminal justice issues, Ed Chung, Vice President for Criminal Justice Reform at the Center for American Progress, noted that the Administration’s budget request is not driven by data, but instead by a desire to fight violent crime, supported by cherry-picked statistics. Instead of supporting community and local efforts to prevent violent crime, the budget would focus on the federal government’s role in enforcing federal law only. Jesselyn McCurdy, Deputy Director for the Washington Legislative Office for the American Civil Liberties Union, noted that the Administration’s policies and the budget are closely linked. She stated that Attorney General Jeff Sessions promulgated a charging policy which compels the federal government to charge a defendant with the most serious crime readily available. This policy will result in more individuals having longer interactions with the criminal justice system, and thus drove the request for 300 new US Attorneys, new US Marshalls, and increased funding for private prisons. This new charging policy is part of the Department of Justice’s renewed war on drugs.
Regarding immigration, Carlos Guevara, Senior Policy Advisor for immigration policy and advocacy for UnidosUS, stated that the Trump administration requested to add 65 new immigration judges to help address the backlog of 600,000 pending immigration cases. He emphasized the entirety of the immigration process is important as judges cannot help those who have been illegally turned away, who are not informed of their rights to bring a case, or who are subject to expedited removal, and thus unable to bring their case before a judge. As such, while adding judges is important to an overburdened immigration court system, many who should benefit from access to justice may not ever gain those services. Kerri Talbot, policy director at the D.C. Immigration Hub, noted that the budget calls for 500 additional border patrol agents. This also comes with lowered requirements for hiring agents, allowing for the government to quickly staff CBP. Further, the Administration hopes to add 2,000 new personnel to ICE. These additions come with rampant reports of illegal denials of entry, harassment, and insufficient process at US borders. But more broadly, federal law enforcement are engaging in racial profiling in their pursuit of immigrants, both at the border and within the country, she said. Many who are perceived as Latino or Muslim by officials have found themselves targeted.
At the closing, Guevara called for criminal justice and immigration systems which reflect our values, and that all Americans can be proud of. The panel was skeptical of this, however, both because of the rhetoric of President Trump, and because Jeff Sessions, previously as a senator, has been an opponent of police accountability and criminal justice reform.