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5 tips for talking with your congresspeople about defunding ICE and CBP

Immigrant communities continue to face numerous attacks under the Trump administration. Many of these attacks are carried out by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, ICE and CBP continue to separate loved ones, terrorize communities, and lock up immigrants in inhumane conditions which place them at higher risk for contracting the virus.

This year, we have also seen the use of ICE and CBP officers and resources to attack protesters exercising their right to speak out against police violence after the murder of George Floyd.

It’s critical that we turn up the pressure on our members of Congress, who have the power to disrupt the Trump administration’s detention and deportation machine, and rein in these abusive immigration enforcement agencies.

For the month of August, members of Congress are at home in their districts during congressional recess. This is a great time to reach your representatives and talk to them about the issues that matter to you.

Here are five tips to help you prepare. 

1. Learn more about why ICE and CBP are a problem.

For decades, ICE and CBP have separated countless families, caused the deaths of people seeking refuge, and terrorized our communities. These agencies waste about $4 billion each year on detaining and deporting immigrants in pursuit of their cruel anti-immigrant agenda—and regularly overspend their budgets as well as reject oversight and accountability.

These agencies are plagued by systemwide abuses. Since 2004, more than 190 people have died in ICE custody, and since 2010, at least 102 have died after interacting with CBP. Despite ICE’s assurances that the people they detain are provided with health care, multiple reports show that detainees are given incorrect medication and suffer delays in health care.

This year, ICE and CBP have also targeted protesters speaking out against police brutality. ICE and CBP officers mobilized alongside other federal agents, detaining, tear gassing, and assaulting protesters in cities across the country. A CBP drone was even used to surveil Minneapolis. These acts of state violence are just the latest in a long pattern of abuses perpetrated by ICE and CBP.

2. Familiarize yourself with the #DefundHate campaign to defund ICE and CBP.

It’s time for Congress to stop funding immigrant detention, deportation, and the militarization of our border communities.

Congress is still working to set funding levels for ICE and CBP in 2021. Our elected officials should defund these abusive agencies and invest our tax dollars in education, health care, and other programs that strengthen – instead of tear apart – our communities.

Learn more about the Defund Hate campaign. And check out our guide on how to talk about defunding ICE and CBP to build broader public support. 

3. Research your representatives' positions on welcoming and protecting immigrant communities.

  • Find out if your member voted in favor of more funding to detain and deport immigrants in 2019. See how your senator voted here for how your representative voted here. This vote was on a supplemental funding bill that increased spending for ICE and CBP, despite the likelihood that these agencies would just use the funding to ramp up their enforcement activities.
  • Visit your members’ websites to see their general voting record and what committees they sit on. That can give you a sense of what kinds of messages might move them, such as arguments in support of respecting the rights and humanity of all people.

4. Find ways to engage with your representative online. 

  • Schedule a virtual meeting with your representative with a small group of other advocates. Even if you cannot meet with your senator or representatives themselves, you can meet with their staff. This is a step toward establishing strong relationships with your members of Congress, which is crucial to holding them accountable for the policies they create. Find your representatives contact information and local office here.
  • Find out their public schedule for any virtual town halls, community events, etc. You can call your member’s office for their schedule or visit their website. Town Hall Project also keeps track of all public town halls across the country. Town halls are a good place to approach your member of Congress, ask them questions about the issue, restate your values, and get their responses on record.
  • If you can’t schedule a meeting, reach out to your members on social media. Post on social media about your experience at town hall meetings or anywhere else you’ve engaged them. Include photos or videos when possible and tag them to get their attention. Here are some tips to help you talk about immigration to build support for more humane policies. 

5. Prepare for your meeting.

Schedule a meeting: It’s best to call your member's local office to request a meeting. Make sure to tell them how many other people would like to attend. If the member is unavailable, ask to meet with staff who work on immigration issues. You may have to send an email or fill out a form. Don’t be discouraged if you need to follow up for a response.

Before your meeting, prepare an agenda: Make sure all participants are clear about what they’re asking of the representative.

Use our messaging tips: Don't forget to review our our five tips on how to talk about defunding ICE and CBP. Consider practicing what you might say with a family member or friend.

Download and print out some handouts: These can help you make the case for why we must Defund ICE and CBP. They are also useful to leave behind for your members and their staff to revisit. Get our handout here.

Make sure to send a thank-you note and follow-up with any information that was requested during the meeting.

About the Authors

Tori Bateman is policy advocacy coordinator in AFSC's Office of Public Policy and Advocacy. She advocates for U.S. policy that aligns with AFSC's vision of shared security.

Peniel Is the Policy Fellow at AFSC. She is interested in international development, humanitarian crisis management and public policy. She is an immigrant from Nigeria who recently relocated to the United States and is advocating for the rights of others like her.