Civil rights groups press Congress about pro­posed $1.1 bil­lion cut

The Washington Times Daily - - NA­TION - BY JA­SON TIDD

Civil rights groups are ask­ing mem­bers of Congress to press the deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral on Tues­day re­gard­ing fund­ing pri­or­i­ties at the Jus­tice Depart­ment as Pres­i­dent Trump’s bud­get calls for a $1.1 bil­lion cut to the agency.

Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein will tes­tify Tues­day be­fore House and Se­nate Ap­pro­pri­a­tions sub­com­mit­tees on the depart­ment’s fis­cal 2018 bud­get. It calls for $27.7 bil­lion — a 3.8 per­cent cut from fis­cal 2017 — with in­creased fund­ing for more pros­e­cu­tors and im­mi­gra­tion judges.

Vanita Gupta, the Obama-era chief of the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s Civil Rights Di­vi­sion, said in a con­fer­ence call with re­porters Mon­day that the new bud­get pri­or­i­ties come at the ex­pense of mi­nori­ties and the di­vi­sion.

“The fed­eral bud­get isn’t just about spend­ing money,” Ms. Gupta said. “It’s a state­ment re­ally on what we, the na­tion, be­lieves we should be in­vest­ing in, and in­vest­ment in en­forc­ing civil rights will en­sure that ev­ery per­son in this coun­try can live a life that is free from dis­crim­i­na­tion and with a de­cent shot at the Amer­i­can dream.”

Ms. Gupta, who now serves as pres­i­dent of The Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence on Civil and Hu­man Rights, mod­er­ated the con­fer­ence call, which in­cluded five other ex­perts on civil rights law, im­mi­gra­tion and drug pol­icy.

She crit­i­cized the pro­posed $26 mil­lion for 300 new pros­e­cu­tors tar­get­ing il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and vi­o­lent crime and the $75 mil­lion for 75 more im­mi­gra­tion judge teams. Another $84 mil­lion would pro­vide for in­creases in the fed­eral prison pop­u­la­tion, and $103 mil­lion to fight against opi­oids and il­licit drugs.

“In to­mor­row’s hear­ing,” Ms. Gupta said, “Congress must de­mand that the deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral ex­plain how the depart­ment in­tends to en­force the na­tion’s civil rights laws, and ex­plain why this ad­min­is­tra­tion is propos­ing to spend the peo­ple’s tax dol­lars on crim­i­nal­iz­ing more black and brown peo­ple.”

Janai Nelson, as­so­ciate di­rec­tor-coun­sel for the NAACP Le­gal De­fense and Ed­u­ca­tional Fund, said the $10 mil­lion for ex­pected prison pop­u­la­tion growth proves the Jus­tice Depart­ment knows its poli­cies will re­sult in greater racial in­equal­ity.

“The Depart­ment of Jus­tice knows ex­actly what will come from its de­ci­sion to re­turn to the out­dated war on drugs and poli­cies that do noth­ing to im­prove public safety while widen­ing racial in­equities and in­creas­ing the prison pop­u­la­tion,” she said.

Michael Collins, deputy di­rec­tor of the Drug Pol­icy Al­liance, called the $64 mil­lion in­crease for the Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion a “reck­less es­ca­la­tion of the war on drugs.” He said it is un­pop­u­lar with the public, a waste of tax­payer dol­lars and a los­ing propo­si­tion.

“This bud­get is a ma­jor step back in terms of deal­ing with the cur­rent opi­oid cri­sis,” Mr. Collins said. “Nearly five decades of the drug war in­di­cate in­creas­ing fund­ing for law en­force­ment failed to re­duce nei­ther the sup­ply nor the de­mand of drugs and only make the drug cri­sis prob­lem worse.”

Ms. Nelson said the $538 mil­lion cut — or 29.3 per­cent — to the Of­fice of Jus­tice Pro­grams is “es­pe­cially trou­bling” as it in­cludes fund­ing cuts for po­lice body cam­eras, school safety ini­tia­tives, drug courts and reen­try pro­grams.

Ka­mal Es­sa­heb, di­rec­tor of pol­icy and ad­vo­cacy for the Na­tional Im­mi­gra­tion Law Cen­ter, said At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions has a his­tory of pursuing “an­ti­im­mi­grant” poli­cies.

Mr. Ses­sions was sup­posed to tes­tify on Tues­day be­fore Congress’ Ap­pro­pri­a­tions sub­com­mit­tees, but Mr. Rosen­stein will take Mr. Ses­sions’ place while he tes­ti­fies be­fore the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee about his con­tact with Rus­sian of­fi­cials dur­ing the 2016 elec­tion cam­paign.

“These ques­tions [on Mr. Ses­sions and Rus­sia] can’t be a dis­trac­tion from the im­por­tant work that the Jus­tice Depart­ment should be do­ing, and what it is failing to do, un­der At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions’ lead­er­ship,” said Kris­ten Clarke, pres­i­dent of the Lawyers’ Com­mit­tee for Civil Rights Un­der Law.

Ms. Clarke also crit­i­cized Mr. Ses­sions’ de­ci­sion in Fe­bru­ary to with­draw the depart­ment’s claim in court that Texas’ con­tro­ver­sial voter ID law was en­acted with dis­crim­i­na­tory in­tent.

“This … ad­min­is­tra­tion have con­tin­ued to demon­strate in words and deeds an in­tent to un­der­mine civil rights,” Ms. Gupta said.

Ms. Nelson said the Civil Rights Di­vi­sion will get a “to­ken in­crease” of $168,000 while 121 em­ploy­ees would be cut, in­clud­ing 14 at­tor­neys, call­ing the bud­get an “aban­don­ment of civil rights laws.”

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