President Bush has called for $135 million for an employment verification system, $459 million for 1,500 new Border Patrol agents, and $410 million for 6,700 additional detention bed spaces in his budget proposal for fiscal year (FY) 2007. In total, Bush is asking for $42.7 billion for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The increase in detention beds is intended to help end the controversial practice of "catch and release" in which apprehended immigrants, after receiving a court summons for their deportation proceedings, are released on their own recognizance. Most fail to appear for their trials and are believed to remain in the country illegally. Some estimate that as many as 75 percent of non-Mexican immigrants fail to appear. In 2004, 54,261 immigrants nationwide did not show up for their hearings.
Bush's proposal designates employment authorization verification funds for the nationwide expansion of the Basic Pilot system, currently used voluntarily by roughly 3,600 employers to confirm the employment eligibility of new employees.
The immigration enforcement bill that the House passed in December 2005 would mandate all of the estimated 6 to 8 million employers in the country to submit Social Security numbers to a national database to verify that potential employees were authorized to work in the United States. The main immigration reform proposals before the Senate would also require electronic employer verification.
Other immigration provisions in Bush's proposal include:
In funding proposals for other departments, the president proposed reducing funding for English Language Acquisition grants for schools from the estimated $678 million in FY 2006 to $669 million in FY 2007. He wants to increase funding for the refugee resettlement program from $483 to $500 million and funding for the Department of State's Refugee Admissions Program from $161 million to $223 million.
State of the Union Address Short on Immigration
President Bush briefly reiterated his support for immigration reform that pairs law enforcement with a temporary worker program during his State of the Union Address on February 1. It was included in a broader section outlining proposals for maintaining the international competitiveness of the U.S. economy.
Bush stated the need for an immigration system that "upholds our laws, reflects our values, and serves the interests of our economy."
He added that maintaining economic competitiveness requires "a rational, humane guest worker program that rejects amnesty, allows temporary jobs for people who seek them legally, and reduces smuggling and crime at the border."
His comments closely resembled his immigration statements in the 2005 State of the Union address.
Senate Poised to Begin Immigration Debate
The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to begin consideration of comprehensive immigration legislation in early March. Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) has indicated that the full Senate will take up immigration legislation on March 27, stating that if the Judiciary Committee does not recommend a bill in a timely manner, he may bring a proposal of his own to the Senate floor.
Frist indicated last fall that Senate debate would initially focus on immigration enforcement. He has not yet stated his position on a temporary worker program.
Advocates and members of Congress alike warn that immigration reform may become increasingly difficult as the November midterm elections approach, making members of Congress reluctant to support potentially divisive legislation.
Policy Beat in Brief
New DHS Leadership. President Bush has nominated W. Ralph Basham, current Secret Service director, to head U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Basham previously served as director of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and chief of staff of the Transportation Security Administration. Basham's nomination will now go before the Senate for confirmation.
Expedited Removal on Northern Border. Border Patrol agents along the U.S.-Canadian border and all coastal areas have started using "expedited removal" to return illegal aliens to their countries of origin, according to an announcement by DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff. Expedited removal is used for those who attempt to enter with improper or fraudulent documents. Under this procedure, an inspector orders the expedited removal; the individual is not allowed to consult legal counsel or present his claim before an immigration judge although he can raise a claim for asylum or express fear of removal and explain his fears to an asylum officer. In use along the entire southern U.S. border since fall 2005, expedited removal has cut the average length of detentions from 90 days to 19, according to ICE.
TPS extensions. Certain immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua will be able to remain in the United States an additional year under Temporary Protected Status (TPS), according to a DHS announcement on February 23. TPS, which allows immigrants from countries devastated by armed conflict or environmental disasters to live and work legally in the United States for a specified period, was set to expire in July for Hondurans and Nicaraguans, and in September for Salvadorans. The United Status granted TPS to Honduras and Nicaragua following Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and to El Salvador after severe earthquakes in 2001. The renewal will affect about 220,000 Salvadorans, 80,000 Hondurans, and 4,000 Nicaraguans in the United States.
Family Naturalization Petitions. USCIS announced it will now consider family naturalization applications individually rather than as a group, unless the family requests otherwise. Previously, every application had to clear each step of the application process before any family member's application could move to the next stage. However, this strategy obstructed the agency's ability to provide timely adjudication of applications. The change, to be implemented immediately, is expected to affect more than 10,000 naturalization applications.
GAO on US-VISIT. The entry-exit program US-VISIT has successfully implemented a prescreening capability in overseas visa issuance offices and an entry identification capability at 115 airports, 14 seaports, and 154 land ports of entry. However, it has been slow to implement Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommendations for improved management and cost efficiency, according to two recent GAO reports on the program. The GAO recommended that DHS work to assess security risks and risk controls, better clarify how US-VISIT fits with other border security strategies, weigh the costs and benefits of each implementation step before deployment, and establish solid accountability measures.
Appointee for Refugee and Asylum Policy. The Bush Administration has appointed Igor V. Timofeyev as senior advisor for refugee and asylum policy, a position within the new DHS Policy Directorate. Timofeyev, a refugee from Russia, previously served as associate legal officer for the president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and as clerk for the U.S. Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.