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Trump's Proposed Budget Calls for More Immigrant Detention

FILE - Teen migrants walk in line inside the Tornillo detention camp in Tornillo, Texas, Dec. 13, 2018.

U.S. President Donald Trump wants to increase family immigration detention beds by 10,000 in his 2020 budget proposal, a move unlikely to win Congressional support.

In the document released Monday, Trump called for $2.7 billion for 54,000 detention beds, as well as the creation of a Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Fund that would expand immigration detention capacity to 60,000, adding 10,000 family detention beds.

The proposed budget is unlikely to pass the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.

The administration says the requests are an "investment in America," adding that they reflect Trump's "commitment to defending our nation."

Immigration beds were an issue in the 2019 budget stalemate which led to the country's longest government shutdown. Democrats had sought a cap on the number of detention beds in use.

The 2019 budget passed by Congress in February was a compromise aimed at reducing the number of detention beds to just over 40,000. While the budget authorized a record 45,274 beds through the end of September when the Fiscal Year ends, it was intended to gradually ease a higher surge in immigrant detentions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

'Inhumane,' says immigrant advocate

Immigrant advocates are particularly incensed by the president's proposed increase in detention for families.

"It's inhumane and it causes irreparable harm to children and their families. Families or children, who are no risk to the community, should be released through an alternative to detention," said Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, a former Democratic primary candidate for Maryland governor, who was recently named president and CEO of Baltimore-based Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS).

Vignarajah told VOA that alternative to detentions (ATDs) programs provide support to children and families that have experienced extreme trauma.

"Alternatives to detention that are currently used boast high compliance rates and cost, on average, about $6 per day, per person," according to a LIRS report.

FILE - Girls play soccer at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children in Homestead, Fla., Feb. 19, 2019.
FILE - Girls play soccer at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children in Homestead, Fla., Feb. 19, 2019.

Vignarajah said she recently went on an exclusive tour of the country's largest child detention center in Homestead, Florida.

Though she said the facility was "relatively clean and well-kept … the sheer scale of this operation was overwhelming."

"At the time of my visit, the facility was housing nearly 1,700 children, and the administration recently announced that it intends to nearly double the facility's capacity. That deeply troubles me because of what I saw already in place: row after row after row of bunk beds — 144 children sleeping in one room," Vignarajah said.

'Alarming,' says another advocate

"Calling for an increase in the number of family detention centers is very alarming," Kathryn Shepherd, a national advocacy counsel at American Immigration Council, told VOA.

Shepherd said she spent "many months" as managing attorney in 2015 and 2016 at the Dilley Pro Bono Project, a local program in the Immigration Justice Campaign that operates a pro bono model of legal services in Dilley, Texas, and it was a "fairly" surreal experience.

"It's a very sterilized environment. It's certainly not something you think that you will be doing when you're in law school, which is providing critical 11th hour legal services to a mother and a tiny child inside the walls of a jail," she said.