Saturday, December 16, 2017
Opinion

Column: We need a federal budget that values families, not one that destroys them

Every week, in churches, temples and mosques across the country, people of faith gather to talk about common values that transcend politics — values like caring for the sick, loving our neighbor, helping the poor and demonstrating compassion. Unfortunately, those values aren't being respected in the White House or halls of Congress.

This past spring, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, apprehended, detained and deported a father of two who worked two jobs and who suffers from late-stage liver disease. They whisked him away from his home, his doctors and the family that loves him in Miramar.

In Miami, a man was hit by a car and, instead of taking him to the hospital, ICE asked for his immigration papers, detained him and deported him.

Perhaps you're wondering, like I did, how this can happen. Well, the truth is it's far more common than you think. ICE has ripped from our communities and deported tens of thousands of people in the past six months, including students, grandmothers, pastors, parents of U.S. citizen children, and individuals who have lived in the United States for decades. And not only do ICE and Customs and Border Protection regularly detain the sick, but they often deny them health care. The immigration enforcement system is plagued by egregiously poor conditions, a lack of accountability and a culture of violence that results in systemwide abuses, including death.

These aren't the values I was taught and that I seek to impart each Sunday. My faith teaches me that no matter where someone comes from or how they arrived to the United States, their life is of value and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

Some in Congress appear to disagree. In fact, Congress is about to beef up President Donald Trump's deportation regime up with billions more taxpayer dollars this fall. Trump's budget seeks to increase ICE and border patrol funding by nearly 20 percent, allowing them to hire 500 more border agents and 1,000 more ICE agents. This funding comes on top of the $18 billion already spent on immigration enforcement annually, more than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. The deportation force has already grown from 2,710 agents in 2003 to 7,995 agents last year, all with essentially no oversight or accountability.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Floridians have no health care, no safe, affordable housing, and our communities struggle with how to pay for upgrading our storm sewers and transportation systems. Our state ranks dead last when it comes to mental health spending.

What exactly are our leaders' priorities when it comes to supporting our families and communities?

We all do better when everyone has the opportunity to succeed, which means Florida must invest in strong families and communities by using tax dollars to support critical education, housing, nutrition and health care programs. For too long, our representatives have said they care about our communities while simultaneously funding aggressive immigration enforcement and deadly immigration jails. They must be held accountable and divest in agencies that tear apart families and terrorize our communities.

Congress should work to provide opportunity and increase well-being. Floridians must call on our members of Congress to say "no" and vote against wasting taxpayer dollars on an abusive and deadly immigration enforcement system. Let's pass a federal budget that supports families — instead of destroying them.

The Rev. Dr. Bernice Powell-Jackson is pastor of Tampa's First United Church of Christ.

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