National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Congress Passes “Emergency” Spending Bill for Border Security

August 12, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

On August 12, the Senate, convened in a special "pro forma" session, passed by acclamation a bill (H.R. 6080) providing for $600 million dollars for "emergency supplemental appropriations for border security."  The House passed the bill on August 10 in a special session convened for an unrelated matter.


An identical bill passed the Senate earlier, on August 5, just before the Senate left for its August recess.  However, since the Senate was proposing to pay for the enforcement resources with new fees on certain companies and the House is supposed to originate revenue-generating legislation, the House took the Senate bill, put a new House Resolution number on it, and sent it back to the Senate. 


This latest enforcement-only proposal began as a request from the President for supplemental funding of $600 million submitted in June.  The House, just before leaving Washington at the end of July, upped the ante, providing $701 million, an amount the Senate reduced.


Content:  The bill will provide $253.9 million for Customs and Border Protection personnel, including $175.9 million for 1,000 new Border Patrol agents and $29 million for new CBP officers to staff border ports of entry.


Immigration and Customs Enforcement will get $80 million, including $50 million for additional agents, investigators, intelligence analysts and support personnel, and $30 million for law enforcement efforts to reduce violence along the border. 


$8.1 million will be allocated to train the new ICE and CBP hires.


The bill provides $32 million for new unmanned aerial drones.


The Department of Justice will get $196 million, including $37.5 million for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to beef up that agency's capacity to target firearms trafficking, and $33.7 million for the Drug Enforcement Agency for operations targeting drug trafficking. 


In all, $23.1 million will go to federal courts and for federal prosecutions to handle increased workload due mainly to the fact that persons crossing the border illegally are being prosecuted as criminals rather than being deported.


The extra enforcement resources will be paid for in part by a new fee charged to certain companies that employ persons here on H-1B and L visas (if the companies employ 50 or more employees and more than 50% of those employees are here on H-1B or L visas).


For more detailed commentary and a listing of the contents of the bill, see the Forum's summary here.


Reaction:  Democrats are touting this as a "building block for comprehensive reform."  (See this press release from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.)  In theory, with extra resources allocated to the border, Democrats and Republicans will now launch into comprehensive reform.  More likely, the bill was passed (in record time, for this Congress) so that members can go back to their districts and states over the summer recess and show how tough they've been on enforcement.  With the exception of Rep. Gutierrez's CIR ASAP, there is no comprehensive reform legislation yet introduced in Congress and, while touting this enforcement-only bill, Democrats did not set out any sort of time-line for moving on with other elements of reform.


While the Democratic leadership may suggest that the additional enforcement resources will satisfy the clamor for more enforcement from Republicans, that is not likely to be the case.  As we have commented several times in ImmPolitic (here, for example), when demands for more resources are met, restrictionist members of Congress make new demands.  This pattern has been playing out for years now.


For their part, Republicans are already asking for more.  Senator John McCain (R-AZ) offered three amendments during debate on this bill to add more resources.  When it was all done, according to Politico, Senator McCain said that he believes "we have a lot more to do."  Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said the bill is "a step in the right direction."


For more reaction, see the Forum's press release.


Congress is now out of session for August.  When they return in September, there will be very few legislative business days remaining before they leave Washington to campaign for re-election. 

It’s Called Leadership

August 09, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger


In the Washington Post on August 6, columnist Charles Krauthammer claims that the Obama Administration’s actions to address national crises without waiting for Congress to act is insidious and oversteps its authority.


He was reacting to a leaked USCIS draft memo in which officials at the agency proposed some options for the agency to deal humanely with immigrants in the U.S. who currently are prevented from adjusting to Legal Permanent Resident status because of the way the immigration law is now being interpreted and because, up until recently, there was an assumption that Congress would act to fix our broken immigration system.


Krauthammer views the memo as an affront to our constitutional democracy, implying that the Administration is trying to legislate. 


In fact, however, the memo presents an examination of the authority given to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under current law to allow certain immigrants to stay here when their deportation or departure would not be in the national interest.  Rather than being condemned for some insidious conspiracy to grab power from the legislature, the Administration should be applauded for reviewing its options under the authority already given to it by the legislature in order to save some people from having their lives destroyed while we wait for our dysfunctional Congress to fix our broken immigration system.   


Krauthammer cites the Environmental Protection Agency’s pending regulation of carbon dioxide as another example, in his view, of the Administration’s overreach.  This example is more absurd, as the Supreme Court has already ruled that the EPA has the authority to regulate carbon emissions.  It would be difficult for it not to.  Carbon dioxide is a gas.  The law is the Clean Air Act (duh!).  The agency is the Environmental Protection Agency.  The consensus of the scientific community is that carbon dioxide emissions are changing the climate and harming the environment.  As with immigration, there was an assumption that Congress would act to deal with a crisis.  It didn’t, and so the Administration will proceed with regulation under its existing authority.


Good for the Administration.


Congress and the Administration should be working together to tackle crises facing the nation.  Members of Congress—mainly Republicans, but many Democrats as well—have instead been too busy burnishing that body’s image as the broken branch of government.  In the case of immigration, the system is broken and Congress ultimately must act to fix it.  A large majority of Americans favor allowing undocumented immigrants already living in the U.S. to stay and gain legal status under certain conditions.  (In this recent CNN/Opinion research poll, it’s now up to 81 percent.)  Instead of throwing up its hands in the face of Congressional inaction, the Administration is trying to figure out how it can work on the margins, using the authority it now has, to mitigate the effects of a broken immigration system that is breaking families apart and destroying people’s lives.


That’s not overreach, it’s leadership.


Image by Flickr user lumaxart.


The Anniversary of Detention Reform: A Mixed Review, Part II

August 05, 2010 - Posted by Mario Moreno



On August 6, 2009—one year ago this week—DHS Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement John Morton announced plans for sweeping reforms of the immigration detention system.  In the past year, there have been positive achievements.  For example, as we outlined in Part I of our series looking at ICE’s ongoing detention reforms, ICE has launched an Online Detainee Locator System.


At the opposite end of the reform spectrum, eight individuals have died in ICE detention in 2010.  Most recently, on July 17, Jose Nelson Reyes Zelaya died while in ICE detention at Orleans Parish Prison, of apparent suicide.


To fairly gauge the progress made requires that we step back in time to August 6, 2009.  On that date Assistant Secretary Morton and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano pledged “major reforms to immigration detention system.”  ICE also pledged to evaluate its detention system “in a methodical way.”  Given the sprawling, controversial, and exponentially growing detention system, such a deliberate design and reform process is wise.   Yet, some shortcomings of the current detention system cry out for equally deliberate haste.  In retrospect, the past year has delivered some victories on detention reform.  (ICE lists its own perspective on its accomplishments here.)   At the same time, there has been frustration at the delay while hundreds of thousands of individuals each year continue to be detained in penal and frequently inappropriate conditions. 


The scale of immigration detention remains titanic.  Upwards of 30,000 immigration detainees are behind bars today, spread across roughly 270 jails and jail-like facilities around the country.  We have not seen significant growth in the use of alternative to detention programs or much receptiveness from ICE in releasing of non-dangerous detainees while their cases are pending.  Furthermore, immigrants have been rounded up by the Obama administration in greater numbers than ever before.  In fact, more immigrants were deported in 2009 then at any time in the past, including under the Bush Administration.    


Despite the enormity of the immigration detention system and its multitude of defects, ICE has made good on some of its promises.  ICE succeeded in ending family detention at the T. Don Hutto facility near Austin, Texas, transforming it into a women-only detention facility where day-to-day conditions have reportedly improved significantly.  However, the reported sexual assaults at Hutto of detainees by a contract guard marred the progress and are a cause for concern across the detention system.  As announced last August, ICE deployed detention managers to monitor many of its largest facilities, including Hutto.  Despite this commendable effort to restore much-needed federal oversight to a largely contracted-out federal function, this increased ICE oversight was insufficient to prevent the sexual abuse of multiple women at Hutto.


ICE also closed the much-criticized Varick Federal Detention Facility in New York.  This was a welcome decision, although a mixed success for detainees who ended up transferred to jails further from family and counsel.  Access to justice and legal services must remain a top priority for ICE in the reform process, a priority which is not met by building improved facilities in excessively remote areas.  An enormous new detention facility opens today in Farmville, VA (approximately 170 miles South of Washington, DC), that may eventually hold as many as 1,000 detainees.  While the facility is lower-security and less austere than many existing immigration detention centers, it is still unquestionably a jail, surrounded by high fences, sleeping hundreds of detainees in barracks-style pods, and requiring detainees to get permission to move from one room to the next.  If the Farmville facility is intended to be a major hub for the East Coast, its lack of access to public transport and legal services is deeply concerning.  This facility falls short of the system imagined by ICE in last year’s announcement; a system “wholly designed for and based on ICE’s civil detention authorities.” 


ICE’s detention reforms could get a nudge forward by a long-anticipated memo from Assistant Secretary Morton on enforcement priorities that directs ICE officers not to expend detention resources on pregnant and nursing mothers, those suffering from serious illnesses, primary caretakers of family members, or those whose detention is not in the public interest.  Another ICE memo on the detention of arriving asylum seekers, while their case is pending has lent welcome oversight and transparency to a formerly opaque process.   


Last August, ICE also committed to creating “advisory groups” made up of local and national organizations with a stake in immigration detention.  This commendable initiative has been dutifully pursued by ICE over the past year.  Transparency and accountability does not always come naturally to law enforcement agencies and ICE deserves praise for increasing both outreach and meaningful opportunity for input to members of civil society.


Instead of dramatically shaking up a deeply complex and problematic detention system, ICE has approached detention reform methodically.  At the same time, tens of thousands of individuals remain locked up by ICE in jails around the country each and every day.  For those behind bars right now, and for those apprehended tomorrow, many of ICE’s pledged 2009 detention reforms will remain an unfulfilled promise.  We encourage the Department of Homeland Security to stay on course.  For those currently in immigration custody, for their loved ones, and for our nation, last year’s pledge to “overhaul the immigration detention system” remains as compelling and urgent a cause today as it was last year.


Image by Flickr user 710928003.

Would Answering Demands for More Enforcement Allow Us to Move on Immigration Reform?

August 03, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger



There has been a developing strain of argument in the immigration debate, recently expounded by Edward Schumacher-Matos in a Washington Post Op-Ed, that goes like this, "If Obama would just accede to the demands of politicians calling for more National Guard, Border Patrol, etc. on the border, we could move on to consider reforming our immigration system." 


The problem with this argument is that it assumes that politicians who are calling for more enforcement sincerely think that more enforcement is needed.  In reality, politicians who are telling us that the Obama Administration  doesn't have the "cojones" to enforce immigration laws are doing so because they are trying to stir up voters in advance of the November elections.  Giving these politicians what they want now is not going to stop their demands.  They will just create new ones. 


It's happened before.  As we wrote about here and here, a series of enforcement "benchmarks" were set in the 2007 immigration reform legislation.  Those "benchmarks" have largely been met, and more enforcement resources have been deployed that were not contemplated at the time.  Still, politicians who are opposed to actually fixing our broken immigration system call for more enforcement.  They have moved the goalposts, and they will move them again.


All the proposals for more enforcement—such as the McCain/Kyl "10 Point Plan"—come in the context of record enforcement that is already taking place—in the interior and on the border. 


On the Southwest border, apprehensions of persons illegally crossing the border—a measure of the total number of people trying to cross illegally—decreased 23 percent from 2008 to 2009, continuing a trend that has resulted in a 53 percent drop since 2004. 


The rhetoric about illegal immigration being out of control and leading to crime and other problems is loudest in Arizona, despite the fact that crime in that state has been dropping for years.  You wouldn't know that from listening to (among others), Arizona Senator John McCain and Governor Jan Brewer, both of whom are running for re-election and are facing (or have faced) immigration hardliners running against them in the primaries. 


The statistics on crime and border apprehensions are not classified.  They are as available to these politicians as they are to me.  So are stories in the press that contain interviews with law enforcement officers in border communities who maintain that their communities are as safe as they've ever been.


However, despite the unprecedented resources already deployed on the border, the Obama Administration is sending 1,200 National Guard troops to the border beginning this week, and the administration has asked Congress for an additional $500 million    in emergency funds for "enhanced border security" and law enforcement.  This is all beginning to feel more like the public financing of the campaigns of politicians who are running against immigration hardliners.  It may provide only redundant enforcement. 


Instead of agreeing to the demands of politicians who will always call for more enforcement, the Administration should talk more about what it has done, as it did in this press release from the Department of Homeland Security on "Southwest Border Next Steps."  The public is constantly being bombarded by assertions that the border is out of control from politicians and some elements of the media who want to paint that picture.  The Administration should do a better job of explaining what has been done and why we need reform.  It should not throw additional resources at a problem when those additional resources cannot be justified.


The immigration laws are broken, and it is Congress' job to fix them.  Without immigration reform, the extra spending on the border is not going to do much.  As DHS Secretary Napolitano has said about securing the border and enforcing the law, "to do this job as effectively as possible, DHS needs immigration reform."


Image: iStockphoto/jlsohio

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