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A federal budget that reflects our values

Friday is the deadline for Congress and President Trump to put forward a long-term plan to fund the government and the essential services that the federal budget funds in communities across the country including here at home in North Carolina.  Now with a potential deal that would provide $1.375 billion in funding for border security measures, it appears that there could be a long-term funding agreement signed by the deadline.

Of course, this deadline and the entire saga that resulted in human and economic costs for North Carolina was avoidable.  The impacts of the first federal shutdown that ended on Jan. 24 affected federal employees, contractors, those North Carolinians engaged with federal programs and services, state agencies administering programs and services and visitors and businesses in our state.

But even more damaging is the lasting effect on the budget process and our democracy.  The funding of core government services, programs, and employment was held hostage to the demand for funding one specific priority of the President: the building of a wall on the country’s southern border.

With a compromise made that will spend $1.375 billion of taxpayer money on a symbol of exclusion with limited value to the integrity of our country’s immigration system, it is worth asking what precedent this sets for the process going forward and what priorities these dollars could have instead been committed to.

$1.375 billion could have:

  • Provided maximum Pell grant awards to 267,770 people across the country,
  • Ensured 499 million more meals each year were available to hungry families,
  • Connected 205,443 children and their families to the assistance needed to afford a quality early learning experience
  • Trained 311,791 workers for jobs of the future

Our federal budget, like our state budget, is about priorities and what we value.

In light of the recent raids that have occurred in our state in the past two weeks, North Carolinians are all too aware that ICE enforcement does not just occur at the border, and that it can hit where people feel the most safe and secure – in their homes, at their workplaces, and in front of their children’s schools.  The notion that a wall will serve as a cure-all for our immigration system or correct  years of missed opportunities for comprehensive immigration reform as a nation rings even more hollow now.

Indeed, the taxpayer dollars that are proposed to be spent on the wall could instead serve to strengthen our immigration system by doubling existing funding for immigration courts to reduce backlogs and increase efficiency in the process. Those dollars could provide universal legal representation to ensure every immigrant, regardless of income, has access to counsel. Alternatively, the funds could be utilized to fund the integration and support of children of immigrants already in the United States to ensure their economic and social mobility through early childhood programming and  affordable higher education.

As long as our elected leaders advance the notion that monuments to exclusion and displays of force should trump common-sense measures and sound investments that strengthen our communities, we should be clear that we are far from realizing our values as a nation.

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