President Bush has requested about $13 billion for border controls and internal enforcement of immigration laws in his fiscal year (FY) 2008 budget submitted to Congress on February 5. This would increase immigration enforcement spending by $3 billion from FY 2007.
Border. The President's budget calls for $8.8 billion for Customs and Border Protection (CBP), up about $2.3 billion from current levels. The additional funding would allow the hiring of 3,000 new Border Patrol agents, bringing the total to about 17,800. It would also provide $1 billion for technology and tactical infrastructure along the border, including the construction of about 370 miles of fencing by the time Bush leaves office.
Congress last fall approved the construction of 700 miles of fencing along the U.S. Southwest border but gave DHS discretion to build a physical fence or to use a combination of sensors and other technology, creating a "virtual fence." (For more on the Secure Fence Act, see the November 2006 Policy Beat).
Interior Enforcement. The budget also calls for $4.8 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for internal enforcement of immigration law. The ICE budget proposal includes $78 million — $26 million more than last year — for the training of state and local law officials to assist in immigration law enforcement. It also includes an increase of $29 million, to $179 million, for the Criminal Alien Program, which identifies criminal immigrants in federal, state, and local prisons and removes them from the country.
Immigrant Integration. The proposal calls for sustained, but not significantly increased, funding for a variety of programs affecting the integration of immigrant families in the country. (Most federal integration programs target refugee or migrant worker families.) The president's budget requests $671 million for No Child Left Behind Title III Language Acquisition State Grants, $34 million for education for children of migrant workers, and $1.4 billion for adult education (which funds adult English-as-a-second-language (ESL) classes), levels similar to FY 2007.
Funding for refugee resettlement would increase about 6 percent from $484 million in FY 2007 to $511 million in FY 2008. The budget would eliminate federal funding for Even Start, which provides reading education to youth and their parents. A share of Even Start funds have been set aside each year for children of migrant and seasonal workers.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) plans to raise the application fee for lawful permanent resident status from $325 to $905 and the fee for naturalization from $330 to $595, according to a January 31 announcement in the federal register. The public has until April 2 to file comments on the proposed increases, which would take effect in June at the earliest.
Fees for temporary workers and all other types of temporary and permanent migration applications would also increase, as would the cost of the fingerprints required for most benefits. Overall, USCIS says fees would increase by an average of 86 percent.
USCIS says the increased fees are necessary to cover the full costs of their operations; improve USCIS operations, including digitizing paper-based files; and reduce processing time by 20 percent.
USCIS relies on immigration fees to pay for processing immigration applications but also to cover its administrative costs, refugee and asylee services, security checks for other immigration agencies, and the office of citizenship.
Unauthorized immigrants held in U.S. detention facilities awaiting removal are sometimes denied timely medical care and housed in facilities with roach and rat infestations, according to a January 17 report by the DHS Inspector General, based on a sampling of five of the nation's over 300 facilities nationwide.
The report also found that detainees may have limited access to relatives, lawyers, and immigration authorities; they do not always have clean clothing and have been served undercooked food.
Between 2000 and 2004, immigration authorities established 38 specific standards for the treatment of immigration detainees that range from required visitation policies to grievance procedures to standards for food service.
Federal authorities currently are holding a record-high 26,500 unauthorized immigrants across the country, following the Bush administration's goal of detaining non-Mexican unauthorized immigrants until they can be returned home. Most Mexican unauthorized immigrants caught at the border are immediately deported without a trial. Previously, federal authorities released unauthorized immigrants while their trials were pending, which led to large numbers of absconders.
Assistant DHS Secretary Julie Myers said the conditions in the five facilities are not representative of conditions across the country. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) regularly conducts inspections of its detention facilities, and has found widespread compliance with standards.
However, ICE records show the five facilities the Inspector General examined were deemed by ICE inspectors to be in acceptable condition, suggesting that ICE's review process may have missed important problems at the facilities.
Immigrant advocates criticized the report, saying it had not reported the most egregious standards violations and that it ignored serious allegations of abuse, including physical beatings, medical neglect, food shortages, and the mixing of criminals with unauthorized immigrants in civil custody.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is joining a lawsuit filed by a detainee at the detention center in San Diego, one of the centers included in the study. The ACLU alleges that the center is "chronically and dangerously overcrowded."
ICE directly operates some of the facilities in question while contractors run others. Many detained immigrants also are housed in federal, state, or local jails.
President George W. Bush renewed his call for a temporary worker plan and a path to legalization for some of the country's unauthorized immigrants in his January 23 State of the Union address. He also said the country needs strengthened border enforcement and employers' cooperation in verifying that employees are eligible to work in the country.
Prospects for immigration reform are widely expected to be more promising in a Democratic Congress. Bush attended a retreat with House Democrats in early February, where he said it would be a mistake to let the year pass without enacting immigration reform legislation.
However, disagreements over the details of a temporary worker or legalization program portend a contentious debate before any legislation is passed. Bush has made clear that he favors a temporary worker program that requires workers to return to their home countries following a temporary period of stay.
Many Democrats favor allowing workers to stay and eventually adjust to permanent status and citizenship. However, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) opposes any form of temporary worker program, arguing that temporary workers would undercut wages and working conditions of U.S. workers. Other unions, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), favor a temporary worker program that offers a path to permanent status.
Support from the estimated 40 Republican members of the House and 20 Republican Senators needed to pass an immigration bill is also uncertain. A number of outspoken Republican members of Congress have decried the choice of Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) as new chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) because of Martinez's ongoing support of a temporary worker program and a path to legal status for unauthorized immigrants.
A wide variety of groups are stepping up their pressure on Congress to resolve the issue. Several of the country's largest Hispanic advocacy groups have called for the House and Senate to make immigration a top priority within the first 100 days of Congress. The number of organizations lobbying congress on immigration issues has been increasing, reaching a peak of 302 in 2005 (the latest year for which statistics are available), according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) is developing plans to collect DNA samples from any person under criminal arrest by federal authorities and any unauthorized immigrant detained by federal agents, a move expected to affect hundreds of thousands of unauthorized immigrants yearly. Congress passed the measure in January 2006 as a little-discussed amendment to the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
Until now, authorities have collected DNA samples only from convicted felons. Officials say they aim to bring DNA collection "into alignment with current federal fingerprint collection practices." FBI officials will enter the DNA samples, collected either from fingertip pricks or cheek swabs, into the National DNA Index System. The new law requires a court order to remove a profile from the DNA database.
Some women's groups and crime victims' organizations support the measure, saying it will help law enforcement officers identify sexual predators.
Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and John Cornyn (R-TX) sponsored the amendment. Senator Kyl, in discussing the amendment, pointed to the 13 percent of unauthorized immigrants detained in Arizona last year who had criminal records.
Immigrant advocates argue it is unjust to equate those guilty of immigration violations with sex offenders, and say the measure could create a stigma for immigrants who have never committed any criminal offense.
The Department of Justice is working to issue proposed regulations, which will then be available for public comment.
Iraqi Refugees. The Bush administration plans to process at least 7,000 Iraqi refugees for resettlement in the United States over the next 7 to 8 months, according to a February 14 announcement by the Department of State. The administration will also work to offer special treatment to Iraqis still in the country who are at risk because of their cooperation with the U.S. government. And, the administration will contribute an immediate $18 million toward efforts by the United Nations to assist Iraqi refugees. The Department of State had previously announced the creation of an Iraq Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons Task Force on February 7. Senators criticized the Bush administration, at a January hearing, for its lack of action to admit Iraqi refugees to the country. Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, only 466 Iraqi refugees have been resettled in the United States. The United Nations estimates that 2 million Iraqis have fled the country, and another 1.8 million have been displaced within Iraq. Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the resettlement of vulnerable Iraqis is a top priority but explained that rigorous security screening to weed out terrorists has slowed resettlement efforts.
California Health Plan. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a health insurance plan that would provide coverage to many of the state's unauthorized immigrants as part of a broader plan to insure the state's 6.5 million uninsured residents. Under the plan, Medi-Cal would be extended to all children — regardless of immigration status — living in homes with incomes up to 300 percent of the federal poverty line (the federal poverty line is $20,650 for a family of four). Medi-Cal currently covers children only if they can document legal residency. About 1 million uninsured adults lack legal status, according to estimates in the governor's plan; about 40,000 would be expected to gain coverage through a new employer mandate and another 160,000 should be able to afford their own health insurance. The governor is calling on counties to create networks to provide medical access and preventive care to the remaining 750,000 unauthorized immigrant adults.
Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced the creation of a Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit on January 31. The unit will be charged with developing strategies to counter modern-day human trafficking and expand the Department of Justice's (DOJ) antitrafficking enforcement efforts. Gonzales said the unit will strengthen the DOJ's investigations and prosecutions of significant human trafficking and slavery cases. DOJ says its human trafficking caseload has increased sixfold over the past six years, and the numbers of defendants charged has quadrupled.
ICE Raid. A weeklong series of raids in the Los Angeles area led to the transfer of 761 unauthorized immigrants into ICE custody between January 17 and 24. The raids focused on unauthorized immigrants who had defied deportation orders or who had previously been deported. ICE arrested 338 unauthorized immigrants in Los Angeles and surrounding counties, and took custody of 423 deportable immigrants who were finishing sentences in county jails. The sweep was part of ICE's Operation Return to Sender, which has arrested 13,192 individuals nationwide since May 2006. ICE estimates that about 600,000 unauthorized immigrants who have ignored deportation orders remain in the country.