For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. –Matthew 6:21
Matthew 6:21 is often cited as a guide for individual spending habits, but it can also be an important principle to consider for federal budgets. The U.S. government spends roughly $18 billion per year on immigration enforcement—more than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined.
In July, the House Appropriations Committee passed a bill to increase this funding and add $5 billion for more walls on the U.S.-Mexico border. A similar bill in the Senate calls for $1.6 billion for border walls.
To many members of Congress, $1.6 billion for border walls must seem like a trivial part of more than $4 trillion in annual spending. But for the people and wildlife along the U.S.-Mexico border, it is not trivial. The $1.6 billion appropriated in Fiscal Year 2018 is funding at least 47 miles of new walls.
In the years following the 2001 terrorist attacks, more than 600 miles of walls, fences and vehicle barriers were erected on our southern border. Walls went through national wildlife refuges without taking into account the impact on wildlife and ecotourism. Private land along the Rio Grande River was seized through eminent domain—some of it held by families for generations.
Though the 2018 spending bill exempted the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge in Texas, other wildlife areas such as the National Butterfly Sanctuary, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and a number of refuge tracts did not receive protection and will likely be decimated by wall construction. And more land will be taken through eminent domain.
The damage done by such walls is not easy to undo. Neither is the damage done by family separations and deportations.
We can and must make better choices for how we spend our national treasure. Instead of building walls and separating families, funds would be better spent addressing the root causes of migration.
Rather than deporting those who have been in the U.S. for years, enforcement efforts should target drug and weapons trafficking (many of the guns used in crimes in Mexico and Central America come from the U.S.—and this violence leads to more migration). In order to stem the demand for illicit drugs in the U.S., more funds should be invested in drug treatment.
Instead of further militarizing border communities, we should invest in schools, health care and infrastructure. Instead of decimating endangered species and ecotourism, we must protect national treasures such as the National Butterfly Center.
At the same time, it is crucial to push back against the notion that immigrants are coming to the U.S. to steal our “treasure.” On the contrary, immigrants bring numerous benefits to our society, both economic and immeasurable. The rampant racism and fearmongering against immigrants today sometimes obscures these treasures. Immigrants work as doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs. They care for the youngest and oldest members of our society. Immigrants enrich our churches, communities and our country in countless ways.
Let your members of Congress know where you want our federal treasure spent—not on wasteful fearmongering against perceived enemies but on investments that will build a better society for all of God’s precious children.
Tammy Alexander is senior legislative associate for the MCC U.S. Washington Office. Story originally posted on September 7, 2018. Reprinted with permission from Thirdway Cafe.