February 11, 2009
Contact: Michelle Mittelstadt
WASHINGTON — The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) today
released a comprehensive report assessing the performance of the
three immigration agencies within the Department of Homeland Security
(DHS), offering detailed recommendations for policy and operational
changes that could be accomplished by the executive branch without
The report, DHS
and Immigration: Taking Stock and Correcting Course, offers
a clear-eyed assessment of immigration policy direction
and coordination almost six years into the life of a young
department with a vitally important national security mission.
“The Obama administration faces significant demands and
choices with respect to immigration. There is much that can be
done by the executive branch to improve the Department of Homeland
Security’s performance with respect to immigration,” said
report co-author Doris Meissner, who directs MPI’s U.S.
Immigration Policy Program and is former Commissioner of the
U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.
“Regardless of how or whether Congress and the White House
ultimately come to agreement on new immigration legislation,
the DHS immigration agencies require policy and operational changes
to improve their effectiveness and ability to implement existing
laws,” Meissner added.
Report co-author Donald Kerwin, MPI Vice President for Programs,
said: “Strengthening the DHS immigration agencies now offers
the opportunity to improve national security, increase efficiency
and fairness in the services they provide, and prepare them for
new legislative mandates that could significantly add to their
already large workloads.”
The MPI report follows a months-long review of the three agencies – U.S.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
(USCIS), — along with overall DHS immigration policy.
The analysis, based on extensive MPI research, also was informed
by roundtable discussions with senior DHS officials, congressional
staff, stakeholders, state and local law enforcement officials,
advocates and policy experts.
Among the report’s 36 recommendations:
- CBP should conduct a full-scale review of border technology,
including the role and effectiveness of physical and “virtual” fencing,
and other barriers. Pending the outcome of the review, new
fencing projects and contracts should not be pursued.
- CBP should systematically analyze the biometric and border
apprehension data it collects in order to understand crossing
trends, smuggling patterns, and other criminal behavior. The
report calls for all the DHS immigration agencies to improve
the quality and transparency of their performance data and
- Consistent with its homeland security mission, ICE should
focus its operations on the criminal enterprises that underlie
large-scale illegal migration. Its investigations should be
prioritized to target worksites that terrorists may attempt
to infiltrate and employers who intentionally hire unauthorized
workers in order to depress wages, undermine working conditions,
and gain an unfair competitive advantage.
- ICE should establish and implement guidelines that prioritize
its investigative targets, as well as whom it arrests, places
in removal proceedings, and detains. Such guidelines should
set criteria for conducting worksite enforcement actions and
should direct all of ICE’s enforcement programs to achieve
its statutory mission.
- ICE’s principal worksite enforcement goals should be
fostering the use of a viable mandatory employment verification
system, ensuring compliance with that system, and punishing
employers whose business models depend on the employment and
exploitation of unauthorized workers.
- ICE should routinely refer for criminal prosecution
those who commit egregious or repeated violations of immigration
law, or who commit unrelated criminal offenses. ICE should
not overuse criminal charges in routine immigration-status
- As part of its Criminal Alien Program and 287(g) agreements
with state and local police and sheriff’s offices, ICE
should pursue plans to provide federal, state, and local law
enforcement with expanded access to its databases during the
booking process; expand screening of all noncitizens serving
criminal sentences; and place noncitizen criminals into removal
proceedings before they complete their sentences (obtaining
travel documents for those ordered removed).
- Supervised release programs run by ICE should be expanded
for discretionary detainees who do not threaten national security
or public safety, and who would not represent a flight risk
while under supervision. ICE’s enhanced electronic monitoring
program should be extended to carefully screened mandatory
detainees who do not represent a national-security, public-safety,
or flight risk if the agency determines the program meets necessary
legal standards of civil detention.
- The Social Security Administration’s (SSA) “no-match” program,
whose purpose is to credit earnings to those who paid into
the system, should not be used by DHS as an immigration enforcement
- Mandatory employer verification must be at the center of
legislation to combat illegal immigration. Until such legislation
is enacted, the administration should support reauthorization
of the E-Verify employment verification system and expand its
use as a voluntary program, allowing for its steady improvement
in moving to scale as a universal program. Attention should
now be focused on continued improvement in the accuracy rates
of the DHS and SSA databases, development of a secure system
of identification, and improved rates of employer compliance
with program rules. Also, the administration should analyze
whether or not E-Verify ultimately offers the best platform
for mandatory verification.
- Funding for USCIS should be “right-sized” and
adjudication procedures should be streamlined so that the agency
can break the recurring cycle of backlogs that impedes its
ability to function as a true immigration services agency.
The agency’s funding model must be redesigned so that
user fees support legitimate application processing costs,
with additional revenue sources to provide for critical infrastructure
- To encourage legal immigration for all who are eligible for
benefits under current laws, USCIS should adjudicate in the
United States, not at consulates abroad, “extreme hardship” waivers
for persons approved for family-based visas.
- Visa and immigration processes have been substantially strengthened
since 9/11. DHS should undertake a rigorous review of
all post-9/11 security procedures with the goal of identifying
gaps that must still be addressed and streamlining processes
to eliminate redundancies.
- DHS should strengthen its immigration policy coordination
role by appointing a Senior Assistant to the Secretary and
Deputy Secretary whose sole duty is to oversee all aspects
of DHS immigration policy implementation and coordination.
The individual should be empowered to act with the authority,
as appropriate, of the Secretary and Deputy to ensure clear
policy direction and coherence in DHS’s immigration functions.
- DHS should take the lead in developing a comprehensive immigration
enforcement vision and strategic plan that involves all key
stakeholders within the administration and beyond.
report is available at www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/DHS_Feb09.pdf
The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan,
non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis
of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development
and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local,
national and international levels.