Taking Stock and Correcting Course: MPI Issues Recommendations for Executive Branch Improvements of DHS Immigration Functions
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 legislation.
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 metrics.
- 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 violation circumstances.
- 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 tool.
- 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 investments.
- 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.
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.