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Immigration Policy Update for May 27, 2011

May 27, 2011 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

A spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is making its way through the House of Representatives.  On May 24th, the House Appropriations Committee passed the bill, which will go to the House floor as early as next week (the week of May 31).  Following is a report on some of the immigration-related provisions in the bill.  The DHS appropriations bill governs spending for the immigration agencies (ICE, CBP, USCIS) that are part of DHS.

This is the first full-year DHS spending bill authored by the new Republican leadership in the House.  Overall, the bill continues the Republican’s recent tendency to throw money at enforcing our broken immigration laws, increasing budgets for programs that do nothing to address the policy flaws that underlie our broken system.  While there has been a lot of talk this year of the need to cut government spending, the reality in this bill is that the House is ready to spend even more money on programs that have proven controversial while doing nothing to reduce the nation’s undocumented immigrant population and our economy’s dependence on workers who now cannot work legally.

At the same time, the bill eliminates the Administration’s efforts to bring immigration fees into line with the actual costs of processing applications, and it also eliminates government spending to help immigrants integrate.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
The Committee approved about one-third of the funding requested for USCIS.  

Fee Reform: The Administration’s fee reform effort would receive no funding.  The Administration requested $207 million for the processing of refugee and asylum applications, for which there is no charge.  As part of an effort to more closely align immigration fees with the cost of processing applications, the Administration requested appropriated funding for this activity.  The Committee rejected the request, and directed USCIS to include the cost of processing asylum and refugee applications into the fee study that it is currently undertaking to form the basis of its next fee adjustments.  The current fee schedule does not include this cost.  In the past, refugee and asylum processing costs added, on average, about $40 to each application for an immigration benefit (such as an application for naturalization).  If this bill becomes law, we can expect the refugee and asylum application surtax to return.

Immigrant Integration:  The Administration requested $19.75 million for immigrant integration programs and for the operations of the Office of Citizenship.  The Committee rejected the request.  In its report on the bill, the Committee noted that it “supports the efforts of the Office of Citizenship to promote civic education through the naturalization process.”  Not, apparently, enough to provide funding for this purpose.  Instead, the Committee expects all activities of the Office, including the immigrant integration grants for which appropriations have been received in the past two years, to be funded out of the Fee Account.  Regarding the integration grants, which have been awarded to non-profit groups that help immigrants prepare for citizenship, the Committee specified an appropriation—out of the Fee Account—of $8.5 million (the same amount for which appropriated funds were allocated in the current Fiscal Year).  If funded through the fee account, the integration grants might add roughly another $1.50 to immigration applications (based on a proportional projection from the cost of processing refugee and asylum applications).

The Forum has produced two documents pertaining to the issues of immigrant integration and fee reform in the Appropriations process:

While the Committee couldn’t find any money for immigrant integration, costs concerns were not a factor in enforcement budgets.  Customs and Border Protection got $8.77 billion—$44 million more than the President asked for in his budget, and more than half a billion dollars more than allocated in FY 2011.  Within that amount, border security between ports of entry gets $3.62 billion, $191 million more than last year—enough to bring the Border Patrol up to 21,370 agents.  

ICE was allocated $5.5 billion, $25.6 million more than the President requested and $84.8 million more than in 2011.  Secure Communities got $194 million, $10 million more than the President requested.  ICE Detention and Removal operations were awarded $2.75 billion, $26.7 million more than the President asked for, to raise the minimum number of detention bed spaces that ICE must maintain on a daily basis from 33,400 bed spaces to 34,000—and the Committee directs ICE “to intensify its enforcement efforts and fully utilize these resources.”

Other Appropriations  
The DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties received $21.1 million, $3.5 million less than requested. The Committee gave the Administration the $72.3 million it requested for the Alternatives to Detention program.

Positive provisions  
The report accompanying the bill contains some positive language.  Among other things, it directs Customs and Border Protection to keep better statistics on detainees in short-term detention.  It encourages CBP to deploy more community relations officers in border communities.  It directs CBP to treat unaccompanied minors with special concern.  The Committee also directs ICE to include better information and more detailed statistics in its reports on the Secure Communities program.  It directs ICE to report on its plans to implement Office of Inspector General recommendations from a 2010 report on the 287(g) program.  There is also language directing USCIS to report on and to guard against abuses of the E-Verify work authorization verification system.

We expect the bill will be scheduled for a vote the week of May 30.  There may be an “open rule” for this bill, meaning that there will be no limit on the number of amendments that will be considered.  If this is the case, we expect a number of additional enforcement-only provisions to be offered.  

The Senate has not yet begun to consider its version of the DHS spending bill.  The Senate will have its own priorities, but will set them out on a later timeline.


Indefinite Detention Bill Proposed

On May 24, the House Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement held a hearing on a bill introduced by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, that would give the Secretary of Homeland Security authority to detain immigrants indefinitely if they are subject to a final order of removal and cannot be deported for some reason, or if they are subject to a removal order that has been stayed by a judge while their immigration case is on appeal.

H.R.1932, the "Keep Our Communities Safe Act of 2011" would, in effect, mean life in prison for certain immigrants who have been ordered removed but who cannot be deported because, for example, the immigrant’s country of origin will not accept deportees from the U.S.

In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled in Zadvydas v. Davis, that immigrants who have been ordered removed cannot be imprisoned by the government for more than six months if there is no reasonable likelihood that the individual will be removed.  (This does not include any sentence imposed by the criminal justice system, if the person is convicted of a crime.)  

Rep. Smith’s bill would allow the government to detain these individuals indefinitely.  Such a bill, if enacted, would (again) be subject to a constitutional challenge.  As the ACLU’s Ahilan Arulanantham said in his written testimony for the hearing, in our system, “detention without trial is the narrow exception. The Constitution‘s Due Process Clause protects each person‘s freedom by ensuring that no one is detained absent strong procedural protections to prevent the unnecessary deprivation of liberty.”

There is no companion bill in the Senate.

Mandatory E-Verify Bill Expected in June

As part of his enforcement-only agenda, Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) is expected to introduce a bill that would make the use of the E-Verify electronic work authorization verification system mandatory for all businesses in the U.S.  

There is still no sign that Republicans who now control the Judiciary Committee (having jurisdiction over immigration) will attempt to seriously address the need to fix the broken immigration system.  Despite billions of dollars being spent on immigration enforcement, and enforcement “benchmarks” set in the last round of immigration reform legislative efforts having been largely met, Republicans continue to call for more enforcement.  They continue to move the goalpost.  

The President, in his speech in El Paso on immigration reform and border security on May 10, made light of this fact:

“You know, [opponents of immigration reform] said we needed to triple the Border Patrol.  Or now they’re going to say we need to quadruple the Border Patrol.  Or they’ll want a higher fence.  Maybe they’ll need a moat.  Maybe they want alligators in the moat.  They’ll never be satisfied.”  

In the White House “blueprint” for immigration reform, “Building a 21st Century Immigration System,” released to coincide with the President’s trip to El Paso, there is a hopeful sign that the President might be establishing his own goalpost regarding E-Verify:  

“Most importantly, [implementing E-Verify] must be accompanied by a legalization program that allows unauthorized workers to get right with the law….”

It’s early in this debate yet, but expect to hear a lot about E-Verify in the coming months.  

Resources from the Forum: For more information on this subject, see our one-pager, “E-Verify Without Reform Cannot Succeed,” and listen to a recording of a Forum briefing for reporters on the E-Verify program.

Supreme Court Rules in Arizona E-Verify Case:  On May 26, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an Arizona Law, the Legal Arizona Worker Act, was not pre-empted by federal law.  The law conditions a business license in Arizona upon using the E-Verify system to check workers for authorization to work in the U.S.  While the Court acknowledged that only the federal government can regulate immigration, the Court saw the issue as a business licensing issue, and that Congress exempted state laws pertaining to business licensing from preemption in the Immigration Reform and Control Act.  Arizona’s more controversial SB 1070 was not a licensing law.

The win in court for Arizona is not a win for the state’s economy.  Arizona’s workers and businesses are working around this scheme to enforce dysfunctional laws.  Half of employers are not even using the system for new hires; some workers and business have moved off the books and into the cash economy; and some have been able to get around the system by using documents that made them appear to be authorized.

The Forum’s reaction can be read in this release.

USCIS Launches Citizenship Public Awareness Initiative

On May 25, USCIS launched a Citizenship Public Awareness Initiative, which will take the form of a series of radio, print, and Web ads and PSAs over the next several months to encourage eligible immigrants to apply for U.S. Citizenship.  Ads will be heard on 250 radio stations and will appear on 400 Spanish-language news and social media Web sites.  The Initiative also seeks to promote awareness of the citizenship process and where immigrants can find resources produced by USCIS to help them prepare for the test.

USCIS is seeking the assistance of community groups to extend the reach of this Initiative.  All of the print and radio ads and flyers produced for the Initiative are available from USCIS’s Web site for download.  There are 30-second radio spots in English, Chinese, Spanish, and Vietnamese.  There are 11" x 17" poster-size versions of the print advertisements in English, Chinese, Spanish, and Vietnamese.  There are also English and Spanish flyers available.  All materials can be obtained on the Citizenship Awareness Initiative Web page (, and other resources from the Citizenship Resource Center can be accessed from that page as well.

Haitian TPS Extended

On May 19, DHS announced an 18-month extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for nationals of Haiti.  Haitians were granted TPS after the January 2010 earthquake near the Haitian capital killed more than 300,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless.  TPS is extended through January 22, 2013.  USCIS has a Fact Sheet on the TPS extension here, and the Fact Sheet is accompanied by a list of links here you can find more information related to Haitian TPS as well as to TPS-related forms.


Borders Integration & Citizenship Interior Enforcement States Detention Naturalization Worksite Enforcement

Immigration Policy Update for May 11, 2011

May 11, 2011 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

President Travels to the Border, Talks about Immigration Reform  

On May 10, the President traveled to El Paso, Texas, where he delivered a speech on the need for immigration reform.  In his speech, the President touted his administration’s work on securing the border and said that, while some politicians will never be satisfied, it is time to tackle comprehensive reform of the broken immigration system.  

(In advance of the President’s address, the National Immigration Forum convened a background briefing for press, with national security and border security experts.  You can listen to a recording of the press briefing by clicking here (mp3 file)).

In conjunction with the President’s address on immigration, the White House posted a document on its Web site, “Building a 21st Century Immigration System.”  The document reviews the Administration’s progress in enforcing immigration laws and in making improvements to the legal immigration system, discusses the economic imperative for immigration reform, and sets out a series of principles and proposals for change in the areas of border security, worksite enforcement, legal immigration, and legalization.  The document ends by calling on Americans “to work together to foster a constructive national conversation on immigration reform” that leads to legislative action.  There is a list of events around the country that will “bring together Administration officials and leaders from business, faith, labor, law enforcement, and immigrant communities” to discuss immigration reform.  You can obtain a copy of the document and find related resources on the White House Web site here.  

You can read the Forum’s reaction to the President’s remarks here.

The President’s trip to El Paso is the latest in a series of meetings with the President or remarks made by him concerning immigration.  Following up on a meeting he had with business, community, faith, and other leaders on April 19, the President met in the White House with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on May 3. In that meeting, the President said that his administration would “continue to work toward improving our enforcement practices so that we are not using our limited resources on those potentially eligible for an adjustment of status….”  In his commencement address for Miami Dade College on April 29, the President brought up the issue of immigration, pledging continued support for immigration reform and passage of the DREAM Act.

Legislative News

DREAM Act Reintroduced
On May 11, 2011, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), Harry Reid (D-NV), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and 30 other co-sponsors, re-introduced the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a bill that would give certain undocumented students a chance to earn legal status.  Co-sponsors include the Chairs of all of the relevant Committees (Patrick Leahy (VT, Judiciary), Joseph Lieberman (CT, Homeland Security), and Carl Levin (MI, Armed Services)).  All Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee are also signed on.

A companion bill was introduced in the House by Representative Howard Berman (D-CA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL).

For more on the DREAM Act, see this release from Senator Durbin’s office.  The Forum’s statement on the reintroduction of the DREAM Act can be read here.

Reuniting Families Act Re-introduced in the House
On May 6, Representative Mike Honda (D-CA) and 74 co-sponsors reintroduced the Reuniting Families Act (H.R. 1796).  Among other things, the Reuniting Families Act would reduce the backlog for family-based immigration visas by classifying lawful permanent resident spouses and children as “immediate relatives,” thus exempting them from numerical caps on family immigration.

For more information, see this release from Rep. Honda’s office.

Administrative Developments

Worksite Enforcement to Focus on Employer; Worker Victims and Witnesses to be Protected
On April 28, the Department of Labor published protocols laying out the guidelines and procedures investigators in the Department’s Wage and Hour Division will follow “to determine when and whether to complete and certify” a petition for a U Visa.  The protocols lay out the implementation details for Secretary Solis’s recent announcement that the Department would help workers gain this protection if investigators from the Department encounter victims of certain crimes while they are investigating complaints of labor law violations.  U Visas, available for victims of certain crimes, allow victims to remain in the U.S. if they agree to assist prosecutors as witnesses.  

The announcement about the Department’s willingness to certify U Visa applications, along with a March 31 Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor, marks a welcome shift in enforcement policy.  Instead of a focus on arresting and deporting workers, there will be more focus on unscrupulous employers who use their workers’ immigration status to avoid observance of labor laws.  The policy shift may help thousands of workers who have been abused by their employers.  

For more information about this development from the Department of Labor, read this blog post from May 6.

DHS Eliminates Special Registration Requirement
On April 28, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a notice ending the requirement that nationals from certain countries follow the special registration procedures of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS).  NSEERS was put in place shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011, and required certain non-immigrant nationals from a list of mostly Middle Eastern countries to register with DHS upon entry into the U.S., periodically during their stay, and upon leaving the U.S.  Failure to comply could result in detention and removal for the individuals.

The Department noted in its notice that, since the program was implemented, other programs have come on line that apply universally and make information gained from NSEERS redundant.  NSEERS was essentially a nationality-based profiling policy of the kind that security experts say is generally ineffective.  Immigration and civil rights advocates have been critical of the program since its inception.

In reaction to the DHS announcement, key organizations critical of the program (including the Forum) released a statement urging the Department to view its announcement “as a starting point for granting relief retroactively” for persons detained or removed as a result of NSEERS.

In the States

Revolt Brewing Over Secure Communities
On May 4th, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn notified U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that the state would withdraw from Secure Communities.  Two days later, the Illinois House passed the Smart Enforcement Act, which will, among other things, give Illinois counties the choice to participate or decline to participate in Secure Communities and require that Secure Communities be used only to identify and deport convicted criminals.

Illinois is not alone in questioning the program.  The California legislature is advancing legislation that would allow counties or local police agencies to choose not to participate in the program, and other states and localities are considering their options.

Secure Communities uses fingerprints gathered by local law enforcement agencies when they arrest someone to check for immigration status.  According to various spokespersons for the Department of Homeland Security, the program is meant to ensure the deportation of persons who have committed serious crimes.  

The reality is very different.  In Illinois, according to a release by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, 78% of persons arrested by ICE through Secure Communities have not been convicted of any crime, or have been convicted of minor crimes only.  Unfortunately, the situation in Illinois is not an aberration.  This blog post from the Forum’s Lena Graber analyzes ICE statistics for the program and finds that, since the program began in 2008, more than 60% of individuals arrested by ICE nationwide have no criminal history, or have been convicted of minor crimes.

The lack of focus on individuals who pose a threat to public safety, and contradictory statements given by ICE spokespersons about whether communities might decline to participate, have gotten the attention of Members of Congress.  Recently, Representative Zoe Lofgren (R-CA) accused ICE of “essentially lying” about whether local governments could opt out of the program, and on May 5 Representative Charles Gonzalez, Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) and Representative Luis Gutierrez, Chair of the CHC Immigration Task Force, sent a letter to the President urging him to “freeze” Secure Communities, citing the “astonishing rate of non-criminal deportations” caused by the program.

ICE Director John Morton was in Illinois on March 6, telling officials they had no choice but to participate in the program.  His will not be the last word on this subject.

States Take Action on Immigrant Students
Immigration policies being formulated in the states, a consequence of the seeming inability of Congress to fulfill its immigration policy responsibilities, are not all negative.  Policies benefiting the group of young people who would be eligible for the DREAM Act have recently moved forward in several states.  For example, Maryland’s legislature passed a bill that would allow resident undocumented students to qualify for resident tuition in state colleges and universities.  In Illinois, the legislature passed a bill that would set up the Illinois DREAM Fund, which would raise private money and award scholarships to worthy immigrant students.  California is considering similar legislation.  The National Immigration Law Center has a list of (good and bad) state bills dealing with immigrant students, with status information, on its Web site here.

Arizona-Style Bill Dies in Florida
Arizona-style immigration bills continue to make their way through state legislatures.  One of the most hotly-contested state-level immigration battles this year has just ended, when Florida’s House and Senate could not reconcile their different versions of a bill before adjournment on May 7.  Governor Rick Scott strongly favored an Arizona-style bill, but a strong coalition of business, faith, and immigration advocacy groups were able to thwart the restrictionist proposals.  

Court Puts Utah Legislation on Hold
On May 10, a federal judge in Salt Lake City issued a temporary injunction against a recently-passed law in Utah that would have allowed police to check the citizenship status of anyone they arrest.  The Utah law also includes a provision (not yet in effect) that creates a guestworker program.  The suit was filed by the National Immigration Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union.  There will be a hearing in two months.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer has decided to appeal the injunction against Arizona’s SB 1070 to the U.S. Supreme Court after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s order putting the law on hold until a decision on the merits can be reached in the lawsuit filed against Arizona by the U.S. Department of Justice.


Immigration Reform States Immigrant Students State&Local Enforcement Worksite Enforcement

Workplace Enforcement: A Welcome Shift in Focus

May 06, 2011 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

factory workers


For many years, America’s large population of unauthorized workers has created a pool of labor that is desperate to work and, because of their immigration status, reluctant to speak up when forced to work in abusive conditions.  The plight of these workers was exacerbated when immigration enforcement aggressively reached into the workplace to detain and deport immigrants not authorized to work.  Employers were rarely called to account for breaking labor laws.

Law-breaking employers, in some cases, would even call the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement when their workers attempted to stand up for their rights by, for example, organizing a union.  Other employers break the law by nefariously avoiding having to pay their workers after placing a tip to ICE about employee’s suspected immigration status the night before payday.

Historically, immigration enforcement action against workers undercuts efforts to hold employers accountable for the violation of labor laws.  Potentially crucial witnesses, once deported, are not available to testify against their employer.  Victims are deported without recourse.

Back in 2000, Congress passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act that, in part, provides for temporary visas (U Visas) for victims of certain crimes, provided they are willing to assist law enforcement in the prosecution of the lawbreakers.  An individual with a U visa may remain in the U.S. for up to four years, but may apply to adjust to permanent resident status.  Qualifying family members may also obtain a U visa, regardless of whether they are in the U.S.

The government was slow to promulgate regulations, and only began issuing U Visas in 2008.  After an outreach program to law enforcement agencies to raise awareness about this tool, the statutory cap of 10,000 visas per year was reached for the first time in 2010.

Until now, the Department of Labor (DOL) has not used its authority under regulation to certify applications for U Visas.  That is about to change. 

On March 15, 2011, DOL Secretary Hilda Solis announced that the Department’s Wage and Hour Division will begin to use its authority to certify U Visa applications.  In the statement, the Secretary said she was instructing Department investigators “to identify potential U visa applicants” in order to “help local law enforcement rescue vulnerable immigrants from suffering and help put criminals behind bars."  The Department of Homeland Security remains the sole adjudicator of U Visa completed applications.

On April 28, DOL published protocols laying out the guidelines and procedures investigators in the Department’s Wage and Hour Division will follow “to determine when and whether to complete and certify” a petition for a U Visa. 

The list of crimes that might make a victim eligible for a U Visa are not those for which DOL is responsible for investigating.  However, as Secretary Solis noted in an April 28 statement announcing the protocols,

“Because many wage and hour investigations take place in industries using vulnerable workers in abusive situations, the Wage and Hour Division is often the first federal agency to make contact with these workers and detect criminal activity in the workplace, which it may then refer to the appropriate authorities.”

Of the crimes covered by the Act, DOL has determined that the crimes of involuntary servitude, peonage, trafficking, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering are most likely to be found in connection with a workplace investigation.  The protocols note that DOL has authority to certify a U Visa application as an agency that has “detected” the crime, but information about these crimes will be turned over to agencies responsible for investigating and prosecuting them.

The Obama Administration has also made a significant advance on a related front to ensure that immigration enforcement does not undermine labor law enforcement.  On March 31, 2011, Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Labor signed a Memorandum of Understanding that promises more cooperation between the two agencies.  Among other things, ICE agrees to refrain from enforcement actions at worksites where there is a pending DOL investigation of a labor dispute, and ICE agrees to “be alert to and thwart attempts by other parties to manipulate its worksite enforcement activities for illicit or improper purposes.”  (In other words, ICE will be on the lookout for employers who turn their employees over to ICE in an effort to, for example, bust a union organizing drive.)  ICE also agrees to consider DOL requests to offer temporary deferred action to any witness that DOL may need in an investigation of a labor dispute. 

In the MOU, ICE also agrees to refrain from worksite enforcement activities in which ICE agents suggest they represent the Department of Labor.  (This was a problem several years ago, when ICE agents posted flyers for a mandatory “training” supposedly organized by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.  When immigrants showed up for the “training,” they were arrested by ICE agents and taken away for deportation.)

For its part, the Department of Labor agrees to do a better job of keeping ICE informed of its activities and investigations.

Both the MOU and the U Visa protocols are welcome news from the Administration.  Abusive employers have too often been able to avoid accountability when it was their employees who were the targets of enforcement actions.  An abusive employer can undercut the competition, and this is not fair for law-abiding employers.  When there is a large pool of workers who can be exploited by employers who do not want to pay the legal wage or who do not want to abide by laws governing working conditions, all workers are hurt.  A proper focus on the criminal activity of the employer will help level the playing field for all employers, and will lift wages and working conditions for all workers.

Still, the magnitude of the problem these efforts attempt to solve is enormous.  The Department of Labor has very limited resources to investigate workplaces where immigrants are prone to abuse.  Unauthorized workers make up five percent of the U.S. workforce.  (That percentage is much higher in some sectors of the labor force—perhaps as much as 75% of the agricultural labor force is unauthorized to work.)  As long as the immigration system does not provide a sufficient number of legal opportunities for immigrants to work, the government will not likely keep pace with the need to reign in employers who abuse their immigrant workers. 

It is Congress’ job to fix the broken immigration system.  Legalizing immigrant workers who have been living and working in the U.S. would make it more difficult for employers to find workers that can be exploited for fear of deportation.  That would make the job of enforcement in the workplace less overwhelming for agencies (whether DHS or DOL) with limited resources. 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Congress will act anytime soon.  In the absence of Congressional action, the Administration must be applauded for taking steps to focus on abusive employers and to offer immigrant victims a chance to help in the prosecution of perpetrators of worksite crimes, and potentially to be rewarded with eventual permanent residence in the U.S.

Image by Flickr user Luke Hoersten

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Border Patrol’s Record Staffing Levels: Diminishing Returns at Taxpayer Expense

May 04, 2011 - Posted by Adam Salazar

Border Fence


If you have ever watched Border Wars, a National Geographic channel reality television program that follows the daily operations of U.S. Border Patrol and other law enforcement along the Southwest border, you might think that each and every day is filled with excitement. Raiding drug houses, chasing migrants through treacherous terrain, and staking out drug cartels are just a few of the activities portrayed by the television program. However, the reality for many border patrol officers is far less glamorous and more closely resembles the daily operations of a mall parking lot guard – sitting, pacing and spending countless hours anticipating an adrenaline-filled pursuit that never happens.

According to the Los Angeles Times, some Border Patrol officers are literally falling asleep on the job from boredom. Because immigrant apprehensions along the Southwest border have dropped from 1.6 million in 2000 to 448,000 in 2010, many agents are spending hours on end sitting in patrol vehicles and waiting for illegal crossings that just aren’t happening – at least not nearly as frequently as a decade ago. This reality clashes with Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) recruitment hype, including the use of phrases such as “This is where the action is!” on its Web site when describing the duties of a Border Patrol officer.

As boring as the job may be now, Congress seems to think the Border Patrol desperately needs more staff.  Just last August, Congress funded an extra 1,000 Border Patrol agents to help apprehend “illegal crossers or smugglers and cartel operatives”. This initiative—which included additional infrastructure and equipment—came during a time of record-low crossings at a cost to the American taxpayer of $175.9 million dollars.  In September of last year, an additional 1,200 National Guardsmen were deployed to the Southwest border to help Border Patrol carry out their operations.  The Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Resolution compromise reached this April (H.R. 1473) sets a floor of no fewer than 21,370 active Border Patrol agents—regardless of whether they are needed

According to information presented in an April 7 Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, it can take several months for a novice Border Patrol agent to be trained and integrated into the ranks.  Many of the 1,000 new officers required by last summer’s bill have yet to be deployed, leaving many to wonder, what will be left for them to do?

At a starting salary of $38,619, not including the “up to 25% additional pay for the performance of extra duty time” or benefits, the 1,000 new hires required by last summer’s emergency spending bill will cost taxpayers a minimum of $38,619,000—now being incorporated into a Border Patrol budget for salaries of $3.5 billion, not counting training, infrastructure, management, and other expenses. Adding in those overhead costs contributes another $1.35 billion, and including security and inspection operations at the ports of entry themselves brings CBP’s total budget to over $11 billion! 

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano has been reassuring Americans that our borders are more secure now than at any time in our past.  When will our political leaders engage in honest discussion about effective and affordable border spending?  After all, personnel numbers along the U.S. borders are at a record high while apprehensions are at a historic low.  More spending for boots on the ground at the border would be a metaphorical bridge to nowhere.

In a political climate where fiscal cuts are being sung with approbation on Capitol Hill, more politicians should be asking, at a minimum, when is enough enough?  The American public can only hope that Congress will recognize that more enforcement agents at the border will lead to even more boredom.  During a time when most taxpayers are trying to figure out how to pay for their rent, gas and groceries, they shouldn’t have to pay for the Border Patrol’s beauty sleep.

Image by Flickr user fredcamino.



Another Side of the Broken Immigration System

May 02, 2011 - Posted by Maurice Belanger


At the end of March, and again in early April, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents conducted enforcement actions at two Detroit elementary schools.  These actions unleashed a firestorm of public criticism, and resulted in a decision by ICE headquarters to investigate these and other incidents in Detroit.


The ICE union, in a statement, denied allegations that the school was being raided and blamed ICE headquarters for indicating the agents may have been acting against ICE policy.


ICE agents are, according to their union, feeling besieged. The publication Working In These Times reported on an e-mail interview with the ICE union president Chris Crane.  Mr. Crane noted that, in a survey of local ICE union leaders, the number one issue the leaders felt needed addressing was “redefine officers, agents and employees to the American public.”  A couple of excerpts from that interview:


ICE employees are ridiculed and hated by all; from the public, to special interest groups, to other law enforcement agencies and the media, to politicians and our own president.


Our employees are incredibly understaffed and absolutely overwhelmed with their workloads, but remain dedicated and work extremely hard for extremely long hours every day, but in the end practically everyone has some type of negative opinion about them.


Here is the real problem: ICE agents are charged with enforcing broken immigration laws that Congress has, for the past 10 years, refused to fix. 


Ordinarily, a law enforcement agent might expect public appreciation for arresting a criminal who might pose a threat to the public.  ICE agents do some of that, but they also arrest community members who  pose no danger and are loved and respected by a lot of people.  To the extent that ICE agents stray from the agency’s own rules and priorities, they are, in the public’s eye, not arresting people who are public safety threats, but people who are friends, co-workers, classmates and parents of classmates, employees, parishioners, neighbors.  These are people who, having lived in the U.S. for years and who have been contributing members of communities all across the U.S., should be given a way to gain legal status.  That’s Congress’ job, and it doesn’t look like Congress will be doing their job anytime soon.


Rather than blame their bosses, ICE agents should urge their members of Congress to fix a broken immigration system that makes their job untenable.  No amount of backing from ICE headquarters is going to give the public a warm and fuzzy feeling about agents who are arresting their neighbors and friends because they don’t have proper papers.  As long as the law requires the deportation of otherwise upstanding members of the community, public scorn comes with the territory.


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