Trump Budget Targets ‘Worst of Worst’ Criminal Groups

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In its first detailed budget proposal for the year starting October 1, the Trump administration is touting its request that Congress bolster border security and public safety. The budget includes $44.1 billion for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and $27.7 billion for the Justice Department, including what the White House calls “critical law enforcement, public safety and immigration enforcement programs and activities.” The Homeland Security proposal include’s $2.6 billion for Trump’s Mexican border wall and $300 million to recruit, hire, and train 500 new Border Patrol Agents and 1,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel.

In addition, Trump wants $1.5 billion more for “expanded detention, transportation, and removal of illegal immigrants.” The Justice Department budget, the White House said, “provides critical resources for DOJ to confront terrorism, reduce violent crime, tackle the Nation’s opioid epidemic, and combat illegal immigration,” as well as a focus on cybersecurity.

At the Justice Department, Trump is asking Congress for an increase of $175 million “to target the worst of the worst criminal organizations and drug traffickers in order to address violent crime, gun-related deaths, and the opioid epidemic.”

Because Trump ran on an anti-crime platform, his budget proposal spares most criminal justice agencies and programs the spending reductions that were threatened in many other federal departments.

Budgets of the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are stable or rising under the Trump plan, as is the office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), which many Republicans have wanted to cut in past years.

An internal White House memo leaked in recent weeks suggested that some insiders wanted to gut the Office of National Drug Control Policy (known as the “drug czar”), but that proved not to be the case in the budget released today.

Acting “drug czar” Richard Baum said Trump was requesting the largest-ever funding levels for the office’s major programs, $280 million above last year’s budget. Baum said, “This is great news and it shows the White House strongly supports the mission of [the office] to advise the President on national and international drug control policies and to ensure the effective coordination of drug control programs.”

Trump does want to eliminate $700 million “in unnecessary spending on outdated programs that either have met their goal or have exceeded their usefulness, including $210 million for the poorly targeted State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, in which two-thirds of the funding primarily reimburses four States for the cost of incarcerating certain illegal criminal aliens.”

Attempts by previous presidents, including Barack Obama, to eliminate the “criminal alien” program have failed in Congress as state officials have insisted that they be reimbursed for imprisoning aliens.

The administration says it will save nearly $1 billion in federal prison construction because of a 14 percent decrease in the prison population since 2013. The budget provides $80 million for the activation of an existing facility to reduce “high security federal inmate overcrowding,” and a total of $113 million to repair and modernize outdated prisons.

The odds of continued savings in federal prison spending may be questionable because the decline in inmate population is partly due to Obama administration and U.S. Sentencing Commission policy changes that released inmates serving drug sentences earlier than expected. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced that he wants federal prosecutors to take a tougher stances on drug cases, a move that could increase the federal prisoner total.

Other programs that could take a hit include aid to crime victims, which Congress has increased sharply in recent years and funding for state and local anti-crime programs, especially those aimed at juvenile crime.

Today’s budget proposal must go to Appropriations Committees in both houses of Congress. Republicans hold the majority on both sides of the Capitol, but that is no guarantee that Trump’s budget will be approved.

When Congress passed the current year’s appropriations after Trump took office, the president initially sought money for the border wall but was rebuffed. That same request now will be considered for next year.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report