Want to Protect Immigrant Rights? Cut the Pentagon Budget | Opinion

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has begun the process of diverting $3.6 billion from Pentagon spending to continue building Trump's racist passion project: a wall along the southern border. It is clear that when left unchecked, this administration will continue to reallocate funds to hurt immigrant communities. Just last week the Trump administration moved $155 million to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

How is it possible for any government agency to have a spare $3.6 billion on hand, let alone to pursue such an unconstitutional and hateful project for the president?

The answer is, the Department of Defense is flush with cash that it doesn't know how to spend, or keep track of.

President Trump continues to request—and Congress appears ready to provide—even more money. Pentagon spending is expected to exceed $716 billion this year, and $738 billion in 2020. That's more money than we spend on education, federal courts, affordable housing, local economic development, and the State Department combined.

Pentagon spending is out of control, and last year, the Pentagon failed its first-ever audit.

We're calling on all 2020 presidential candidates to commit to slash Pentagon spending, increase oversight and accountability and redirect the savings to meet priority domestic and human needs. That also means holding other government agencies, like Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) accountable for the millions that are diverted to these agencies which fund mass deportation and torture of immigrant communities, as well as funding for the wall.

As for Pentagon funds, we have seen how the excess money sloshing around the Pentagon can be diverted to advance Trump's anti-immigrant agenda. Like earlier this year, when he declared a "national emergency" in attempts to get money to build a wall. We have organized rallies, pressured Congress and sued to block that agenda. But like Deep Throat told Woodward and Bernstein, we must also follow the money. That's one reason to call for redirection of money away from the Pentagon to other priorities.

A second reason is to recalibrate our foreign policy away from militarism and war fighting, and move towards diplomacy and international cooperation. To put it clearly: President Trump is trying to solve a problem caused by years of U.S. policies. There is a straight line from the U.S. military intervention in Central America, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, to today's Central American refugee crisis. The solutions to the refugee crisis won't rely on walls, exclusionary policy and militarism, but rather in diplomacy and humanitarian investments to reduce the violence, instability and poverty in Central America that is driving so many from their homes—violence and instability that the U.S. has helped cause.

By overly investing in tools of conflict instead of development and diplomacy, the U.S. has not only failed to address the reasons that many must flee their countries and seek refuge elsewhere, but has in fact made it worse.

A third rationale for redirecting hundreds of billions of dollars from Pentagon spending to other priority needs is the most obvious: While we are wasting hundreds of billions on needless or counterproductive weapons and Pentagon programs, the needs of everyday Americans are left underfunded, or not funded at all, such as:

  • Serious proposals to avert climate catastrophe total in the trillions of dollars over the next decade.
  • Building and rebuilding our infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers says the United States has a $2 trillion, 10-year infrastructure investment gap, reflecting under-investments in drinking water, parks, bridges, schools and more.
  • Providing universal child care, which would cost about $50 billion a year more in public spending than we are currently spending.
  • Addressing the opioid epidemic. The leading proposal to address the opioid addiction epidemic would cost $100 billion over 10 years.

The list goes on.

When it comes to Pentagon spending – as with so many other issues – it is crucial that our next president does not merely undo what Trump has done. The next president needs to instead present a clear vision and path forward that doesn't demonize immigrants and refugees. Instead, a future leader must get to the root causes that allowed Trump's corruption and racism to flourish. The U.S. is trying to solve a problem they created by demonizing immigrants and continuing border militarization.

For too long, both Republicans and Democrats have been hesitant to take on Pentagon greed, for fear of being accused of weakness on national security. But true security comes from addressing human needs and protecting our rights, not from a bloated and unaccountable Pentagon.

It's time to stop misdirecting hundreds of billions of dollars away from domestic and human needs to pad unnecessary budget lines for endless wars, failed weapons and the Pentagon's corporate handouts. Doing so will make our country stronger and more just, and lead to a country where everyone is able to thrive, and live without fear. Especially as it becomes more and more clear that the Trump administration will continue to divert funds from wherever he can to fund his agenda of mass deportation, and exclusion of refugees.

Robert Weissman is President of Public Citizen. Cristina Jimenez is Co-Founder and Executive Director of United We Dream.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​