The House Wants to Defund DHS. Let’s Restructure It Instead.


Media outlets and blogs are taking to the fainting couches because Very Evil House Republicans who Hate America are threatening to defund the much-mocked Department of Homeland Security.

Sadly, they’re not failing to fund it because, say, it’s a gargantuan bureaucratic waste of time that funnels billions of taxpayer dollars to security grifting companies, or because it hands out military equipment to police departments with all the brio and experience of a private just out of basic training, or because DHS funding suppresses legitimate dissent by communities of color across the United States.

No, what’s really got House Republicans in a lather about DHS is realizing that something “must-pass” like a DHS funding bill would be a great vehicle for a poison-pill amendment overturning the President’s executive actions on immigration. So they sent that bill up to the Senate, and Senate Republicans, needing five Democratic votes to push through a DHS funding bill, somehow can’t find any Democrats willing to commit electoral hara-kiri with their own base in order to please the Republicans’ base. Go figure!

As a result, in two weeks’ time the DHS will run out of money, and apologists for the security state are beginning to panic – but they’re having trouble getting their stories straight. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) warns us all, “We can’t go too far here because look what happened in Paris.” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) fulminates, “We can’t shut down the DHS. Not with the threats the homeland is subjected to as a result of the rise of ISIS.” [Note: There is no threat to “the homeland” from ISIS.] For God’s sake, the TSA might run out of money! What an awful shame that would be!

The DHS is a failure. It was a bad idea to begin with, coming out of the incorrect notion that the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented by “joined-up intelligence.” It never made sense to yoke the Coast Guard, FEMA, and the customs/border/transportation security/immigration agencies awkwardly together. DHS has always been poorly managed. It just layers an extra frosting of highly remunerated officials on top of agencies that would do just as fine where they were before. So let’s take a closer look at what a sensible structure would look like.

From President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 Budget Request for $38.2 billion for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
From President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 Budget Request for $38.2 billion for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

The Coast Guard and FEMA together make up 40% of DHS’s funding, and heck, they have every right to flourish. Here in Massachusetts, if there’s much more snow we’ll all be clamoring for FEMA assistance. But dear God, the 20 other agencies under DHS’s banner have problems that would make the most dedicated apparatchik cry uncle.

Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Transportation Security Administration and US Citizenship and Immigration Services together make up another 44% of the budget. These massively inept agencies are a byword for byzantine rules, unaccountable decision-making, routine privacy violations, and imprisonment without due process of law. For immigrants in this country – and I was, from 1999 to 2012, a noncitizen here – they operate as a kind of shadow government, with the power to step in and deport you at any moment with precious little redress. They have so much money to play with and so much mission creep that ICE, for example, is cheerily trumpeting right now on its website an operation to intercept people selling fake NFL merchandise (“Operation Team Player”).

This republic functioned just fine till the late nineteenth century with almost no restrictions on immigration, and we would likewise function just fine again with far fewer restrictions than we have today. This is not a crowded country, and we should welcome people who want to work here. A temporary shutdown of this second set of agencies might force greater public consideration of whether they are actually doing any earthly good. A refined and simplified Immigration Service, that unified CBP, ICE, TSA and USCIS under a simple and just set of immigration laws, and that was housed under the State Department, would make better sense.

I’m not under any illusion that the current Congress would be receptive to a more logical and more just immigration system. I merely observe that what we’ve got doesn’t make sense, and it does Democrats a disservice to be playing gleeful Republican-style games by slamming their opponents as unpatriotic for even thinking about taking a critical eye to this revolting Rube Goldberg ragbag of repression.

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