President Bush's proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2006 includes $37 million to support 210 additional Border Patrol agents and $20 million for Border Patrol aircraft. This funding represents only one-tenth of the full level of funding needed to provide 2,000 new Border Patrol agents, as was approved in the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004.
Other immigration-related spending priorities for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are $50 million for the Arizona Border Control initiative for enhanced personnel, technology, and aviation assets, and $1.4 billion for US-VISIT, the federal government's entry-exit visitor screening program. The $1.4 billion figure includes a $50 million increase for accelerated deployment of US-VISIT and improved access for border personnel to immigrant, criminal, and terrorist information.
The proposed budget would also increase funding for the detention and removal of aliens by $176 million, bringing the total to just under $1.5 billion. The budget would allocate $5.4 million to expand alternative detention methods, including intensive supervision arrangements, in order to improve the treatment of non-criminal aliens, particularly asylum seekers, awaiting court appearances.
Worksite enforcement measures for temporary workers carried out by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of DHS will be supported by an additional $18 million, or double the 2004 amount. ICE, which has suffered large financial shortages, would receive a total funding increase of 13 percent, or $519 million.
The budget would also continue to allocate funds to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for the five-year, $560 million program for reducing the immigrant benefit application backlog (defined as the number of cases, immigrant or nonimmigrant, that exceed their expected cycle time). However, the program would be reduced by $80 million in FY 2006 because of one-time appropriations in the FY 2004 and 2005 budgets.
Other departments are slated to receive increases for immigration-related programs, according to the administration's budget. For example, the proposed State Department budget includes an increase in $85 million, enough funding to admit about 20,000 additional refugees next year. This would bring the total number of admissions closer to the 70,000 level admitted in the years before the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The budget would also increase the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement's (ORR) funds for assisting states and faith-based and community organizations in resettling the increased number of refugees. ORR would receive $552 million, or an increase of $68 million, under the current proposal.
Some stakeholders disagree with the administration's proposal. For example, states have criticized the budget's elimination of a $305 million program to reimburse states and counties for costs incurred in detaining aliens.
The Office of Legal Counsel of the Attorney General in 2002 drafted an as-yet unreleased opinion that state and local law enforcement have "inherent" ability to enforce federal immigration law. Under this rule, law enforcement officials can arrest and detain persons in violation of immigration law.
President Bush reaffirmed his support for immigration reform and a temporary worker program during his February 2 State of the Union Address.
"It is time for an immigration policy that permits temporary guest workers to fill jobs Americans will not take, that rejects amnesty, that tells us who is entering and leaving our country, and that closes the border to drug dealers and terrorists," said Bush during his speech.
"We should not be content with laws that punish hardworking people who want only to provide for their families, and deny businesses willing workers, and invite chaos at our borders."
President Bush first unveiled his temporary workers program in January 2004. The President's proposal would allow both undocumented workers currently working in the United States and foreign workers seeking employment to obtain three-year work visas that could be renewed at least once.
A Congressionally mandated, bipartisan study released in February reports on wide variations in the handling of potential asylum cases across the country.
For instance, while most immigration officers complied with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations prohibiting them from coercing an asylum seeker into withdrawing an application, at one port of entry, several officers were observed inappropriately encouraging such withdrawals.
"Asylum Seekers in Expedited Removal" was commissioned by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
Expedited removal, established in 1996 legislation, authorizes immigration officials to detain and immediately deport improperly documented aliens, without allowing them to consult legal counsel or present their claims before an immigration judge. The legislation included a number of protections for asylum seekers to ensure that they will not be returned to face persecution.
The study also reports that chances of receiving asylum were found to be heavily dependent on having an attorney. Asylum seekers without an attorney had a two percent chance of being granted asylum while those with an attorney had a 25 percent chance.
In addition, the study notes that applicants for asylum are likely to be held in jail or jail-like detention centers that are inappropriate for non-criminal detainees.
Among other recommendations to address the system's current inconsistencies, the study recommends establishing a high-ranking DHS official to coordinate the day-to-day oversight of asylum programs across the department.
The House approved a package of immigration-related provisions on February 10 that had been excluded from the Intelligence Reform Act, which was signed into law in December 2004.
The REAL ID Act would prevent the federal government from accepting state-issued identifications such as driver's licenses for activities such as boarding airplanes or entering federal buildings if they are available to undocumented aliens.
Additionally, the act would raise the standards asylum applicants face by, for instance, limiting the grounds on which asylum can be claimed, requiring applicants to present corroborating evidence if requested, and allowing factors such as demeanor and consistency of statements to be used in weighing cases.
The REAL ID Act would also expand the grounds of inadmissibility and deportability due to terrorist or terrorist-related activity, waive DHS compliance with certain environmental rules, and facilitate the completion of a U.S.-Mexico border fence near San Diego.
The bill, introduced by Wisconsin House Republican James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, passed by 261 to 161. The bill's proponents promoted it as an anti-terrorist measure. Opponents warn of safety risks, fearing that the measures will cause as an increase in unlicensed and uninsured drivers.
On the same day that the House passed the REAL ID Act, Republican Senator Larry Craig and Democrat Senator Edward Kennedy reintroduced a bill benefiting foreign agricultural workers. The Agricultural Jobs, Opportunities, Benefits and Security Act, or AgJOBS, first introduced in 2004, would streamline an existing temporary visa program for foreign agricultural workers.
The bill would also allow for the approximately 500,000 farm workers who currently lack authorized status the opportunity to earn permanent residency if they demonstrate lawful behavior and continue to work for at least 360 days in agriculture over the next six years.
Michael Chertoff was confirmed and sworn in on February 15 as the second Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), despite controversies that arose in confirmation hearings over his involvement in terror suspect interrogations.
Chertoff replaces former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge, who resigned on February 1. He was the second nominee to head DHS, following Bernard Kerik's withdrawal from consideration after it was revealed that he had hired an undocumented nanny.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has released final regulations for overhauling its pay and personnel procedures that will also restrict union bargaining rights.
The strategic human resources plan will pay DHS workers — including Customs and Border Protection officers and Citizenship and Immigration Services employees — according to performance. It will also replace the General Schedule (GS) pay system used by many government agencies, which contains 15 pay bands and gives raises based on time of employment.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the regulations were consistent with principles of successful human resources management, though it cautioned DHS that strong leadership and a good communications strategy would be necessary for effective implementation.
Some labor unions strongly oppose the new system. Four unions representing DHS employees have filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of DHS plans to remove certain bargaining protections from unionized workers.
DHS Resignation. C. Stewart Verdery Jr., the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Assistant Secretary for Border and Transportation Security Policy and Planning, announced his resignation, effective March 4, 2005. His resignation letter cited several accomplishments of the Border and Transportation Security division, such as the deployment of the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program. He also recommended that DHS create a policy office focusing on long-term strategic planning within the department.
Visa Clearance Extension. The State Department has relaxed the frequency of security checks for some student and business visitors. Under the Visas Mantis security clearance system, students working in certain sensitive scientific and technical fields can receive clearance for up to four years, and temporary workers and exchange visitors can receive clearance for up to two years. Previously, a new clearance was required every year.
A GAO report entitled "Streamlined Visas Mantis Program Has Lowered Burden on Foreign Science Students and Scholars, but Further Refinements Needed" cites government improvements in processing students and scholars, but indicates that technology problems and lack of guidance can still lead to some delays.
Visa Waiver Program. The State Department reports that several countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which allows citizens of VWP countries to enter the U.S. without a visa for up to 90 days, will not be able to meet deadlines for introducing biometric features to passports. At issue is whether the deadline of October 26, 2005, will be extended again, having been extended by one year in 2004, or whether VWP visitors will be required to apply for visas in order to visit the United States.
Seasonal Worker Visas. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced proposed rules to the H-2B visa program for non-agricultural seasonal workers who fill jobs for which qualified Americans are not available. The changes introduce streamlined application processes to match employers and workers in a more timely manner.
GAO Report. A recent GAO study concluded that requiring temporary non-immigrant foreigners to self-report their address on a yearly basis would be costly and of little use. The study was mandated by Congress in 2002 because of concern over the government's ability to locate aliens within the country.
The GAO has also released a study on US-VISIT, the Department of Homeland Security's program to monitor the entry and exit of selected foreign nationals. Although it recognizes accomplishments to date, it cites the need for more rigorous management practices and notes delays in rolling out the program.