Bush Boosts Immigration Enforcement in FY2005 Budget
Bush Proposes $40.2 Billion FY2005 DHS Budget
President George W. Bush on February 2 released his administration's $2.4 trillion FY2005 budget proposal. The budget includes $40.2 billion for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to "lead the unified national effort to secure America." Biodefense is proposed to receive the largest increase, rising 186 percent to $2.5 billion in FY2005, while the budget allocation to the Office of Domestic Preparedness, one of the few components scheduled to lose funding, would shrink by 18 percent to $3.6 billion. The budget request does not appropriate funds for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP). (See March 2003 Policy Beat for more information on SCAAP)
Funding for the immigration-related functions of DHS is also set to increase, although unevenly. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the department's two immigration enforcement-related components, have proposed budget increases of $257 million and $357 million, respectively. If passed by Congress, CBP would comprise 15 percent of the department's proposed FY2005 budget at $6.2 billion, with ICE constituting 10 percent at $4 billion. In contrast, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) is slated to receive an increase of $58 million, comprising only four percent of the proposed DHS budget at $1.7 billion. Of that amount, $1.57 billion is actually drawn from fee revenues for immigration benefits, with only $140 million projected to come from congressional appropriation. Notable changes in immigration-related funding include a request to double the current resources for worksite enforcement, a $100 million increase for immigrant detention and removal efforts, $60 million to support six-month processing of immigration benefits applications by FY2007, and an additional $12 million to support the electronic visitor tracking initiative, US-VISIT. (See January 2004 Policy Beat for more information on US-VISIT) Some analysts have noted that immigration budget priorities appear to address some of the immigration reform principles cited by the president in his January 7 speech. (See February 2004 Policy Beat for more information on Bush's statement and March 2003 Policy Beat to learn more about FY2004's budget proposal)
Judge Faults Adjustment Delays for Approved Asylees
In a strongly worded February 12 decision, an 8th Circuit judge from St. Paul, Minnesota chided the federal government for its treatment of asylum holders waiting to become permanent U.S. citizens. Calling the government's behavior "egregious" and asserting that the problem is "Kafkaesque" and "nothing short of a national embarrassment," Judge Richard Kyle ordered the government to grant immediate permanent resident status to almost 22,000 individuals who have already received asylum status. The class-action lawsuit, Ngwanyia v. Ashcroft, was brought on behalf of immigrants who were granted asylum in the United States, but whose application for permanent resident status had been delayed for years due to bureaucratic delays. The plaintiffs—the American Immigration Law Foundation, the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, and the law firm Dorsey and Whitney—alleged that the government's failure to adjust the status of these 22,000 immigrants unnecessarily lengthened the time before which they could become U.S. citizens, improperly required many asylees to repeatedly obtain work permits, and concurrently extended the wait list for all asylees by more than two years. As a remedy, the plaintiffs called for prompt adjustment of the associated applications; Judge Kyle concurred. The decision, however, has been stayed pending appeal.
H-1B Cap Reached Months Before End of FY2004
On February 17, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that the FY2004 H-1B visa cap of 65,000 new admissions had been reached. The cap was 195,000 in FY2003 but reverted back to the 65,000 annual allotment imposed by the 1990 Immigration Act in FY2004 as a result of congressional inaction. The cap applies only to applicants seeking "new employment" under the H-1B visa category, and excludes petitions by cap-exempt employers such as non-profit and government research organizations and educational institutions. All incoming FY2004 petitions for new employment status under H-1B, therefore, will be returned upon receipt. Applicants can submit FY2005 petitions beginning April 1, 2004; authorization can be granted no sooner than October 1. With more than half a year remaining in FY2004, employers fear they will not be able to meet continuing demands for high-skilled labor in the United States. As a result, lobbying efforts to increase the annual H-1B cap to the level of recent years' admissions of between 115,000 and 195,000 are expected to intensify. In FY2003 immigration services approved approximately 78,000 applications subject to the annual cap; in FY2002, the corresponding number was 79,000. See (October 2003 Policy Beat for more information on past H-1B annual caps and November 2002 Spotlight for more detailed information on H-1Bs)
Fee Increase Proposed for Immigration Applications and Services
Following on the heels of a January 2004 Government Accounting Office (GAO) report that concluded that immigration application fees are insufficient to fund current U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services operations, the agency proposed a rule in February 2004 to increase fees for immigration services. If adopted, the adjusted fee schedule would require applicants to pay, on average, an additional $55 for an immigrant application, as well as an extra $20 for biometric requirements. Currently, an immigration benefit application can cost anywhere between $15 and $460, and the current fee for biometric services is $50. The bureau attributes the need for a fee increase to factors that include: national security enhancements; improved refugee processing; fee-exempt naturalization services for military personnel; and the creation of an Office of Citizenship. Many critics, however, charge that the agency is increasing application fees at a time when service quality has declined, as exemplified by the fact that application backlogs reached an all-time high of 6.2 million at the end of the last fiscal year and have continued to rise. The rule was published in the Federal Register and is open for comments through March 4, 2004.