National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Immigration Policy Update for February 17, 2012

February 17, 2012 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

President Releases FY 2013 Budget

On February 13, the Obama Administration released its Fiscal Year 2013 budget request.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement: The budget request for ICE is $5.64 billion. The Criminal Alien Program gets a 10 percent increase, as Secure Communities continues to be deployed nationwide (and CAP officers initiate removal proceedings against noncitizens held in local, state and federal prisons). The 287(g) program is cut by a quarter, as it is being made redundant with the deployment of Secure Communities. There is money in the budget to operate 32,800 detention beds, down from the 34,000 Congress funded in 2012. Alternatives to detention will receive a 35 percent increase.

Customs and Border Protection: Overall, the CBP budget shows a two percent increase, just shy of $12 billion. There is money in the budget to maintain a force of 21,370 Border Patrol Agents. Border security at ports of entry will receive slightly more money than was allocated in 2012.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: The Administration asked Congress to appropriate $143 million for USCIS, the majority to fund E-Verify. After Congress last year rejected the administration’s fee reform initiative (to fund the cost of processing refugee and asylum applications), the Administration did not follow up with a request this year. There is a request for $11 million for immigrant integration, including the citizenship grant program. (The majority of USCIS’s $3 billion budget is funded not from Congressional appropriations, but from the Examinations Fee Account—into which is deposited fees collected from immigrants, citizens, and businesses filing various applications.)

Department of Justice: Approximately 15 percent of the Department of Justice’s entire law enforcement budget is related to Southwest border security. The Executive Office for Immigration Review (the Immigration Courts) is proposed to get a 2.8 percent increase in its budget. The backlog in Immigration Court cases—now exceeding 300,000—is expected to continue as DHS continues to expand programs such as Secure Communities.

You can find more detail in two documents the Forum has prepared to summarize the immigration-related pieces of the budget. One document focuses on the Department of Homeland Security budget, and one on the Department of Justice.

On February 15, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano was on the Hill, testifying before the Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee on the DHS budget. Members of the Subcommittee made perfunctory mention of the national debt and the need to cut spending, then quickly moved on to complain that the budget did not request enough money for their favorite enforcement programs. You can find her testimony, and a video recording of the hearing, on the Appropriation Committee’s Web site.

Hearing on Agriculture and Immigration Avoids the Obvious

Congress’ failure to reform our immigration laws has hurt U.S. agriculture perhaps more than any other industry. A very large percentage of workers are undocumented.  Proposals to make E-Verify mandatory for all businesses throughout the country, without simultaneously reforming immigration laws, would be a disaster for agriculture, and agricultural interests have been among the most engaged in trying to get the Do Nothing Congress to do something.

Republican lawmakers have found themselves in a tough spot on this issue. They would like to do something for their rural constituencies who are hurting for lack of reform, but at the same time they don’t want to give “amnesty” to the very workers their constituents depend on.

On February 9, the House Immigration Subcommittee held a hearing, "Regional Perspectives on Agricultural Guestworker Programs." The hearing was mostly an effort to shift attention away from an obvious solution: legalizing the skilled immigrant farmworkers who are already working on America’s farms.

Instead, there were various competing proposals, including one by Judiciary Committee Chair Lamar Smith (Texas), to make the H-2A agricultural guest worker program less restrictive, or to replace it with some other guest worker program. (One witness did suggest that current workers might be legalized by making them pay a fine that would amount to approximately a quarter of their income over a five-year period.)

Given the support for AgJOBS in the Senate, there is little chance in this Congress to advance any proposal that does not include provisions to legalize the current skilled farmworker population.

Congress Extends Tax Cut without Forcing Poor Families to Pay

As Congress debated an extension of the payroll (Social Security) tax cut for the rest of 2012, one proposal for offsetting the cost of the tax cut was to deny the child tax credit, an annual benefit for low-income tax filers, to individuals filing their taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. (Only those using Social Security Numbers would qualify for the benefit.) Over the last few days, Republicans have dropped their demand that the tax cut be paid for by cuts in government spending, and on February 17, the House and Senate passed the tax cut extension. For more information on this issue, see this fact sheet from First Focus, an organization that advocates for children and families.

Haitian Family Unity Petition

Advocates for Haitians are pushing the Administration to grant humanitarian “parole” to Haitians who have approved family immigration petitions, so that those Haitians, who eventually will obtain an immigrant visa anyway, will be able to wait in the U.S. until their priority date is current. Without this change, Haitians are having to wait three or more years in the earthquake-devastated country until their visa priority date is current.  A Massachusetts State Representative, Linda Dorcena Forry, has set up a petition letter addressed to the President about the Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program. You can add your name to the petition here. The proposed program would be similar to one that already exists for Cubans.

There is related legislation pending in Congress. A bill by Representative Yvette Clark (New York), H.R. 3297, would expand criteria for V visas to include certain Haitian nationals who had an approved family petition prior to January 12, 2010. V non-immigrant visas are available to spouses and children of lawful permanent residents so that they may wait in the U.S. for the completion of the immigrant visas process. In the Senate, the companion bill, S. 480, is sponsored by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

ICE Appoints Public Advocate

On February 7, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced the appointment of Andrew Lorenzen-Strait as the agency's first Public Advocate. Mr. Lorenzen-Strait will report to the Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations, and will assist individuals and community stakeholders in addressing and resolving complaints and concerns, particularly those related to ICE enforcement actions involving U.S. citizens. The Public Advocate is also charged with facilitating communication with stakeholders and soliciting input on immigration enforcement initiatives and operations. You can read more about the Public Advocate and his responsibilities in this release from ICE.

Studies Describe Alabama Law’s Costs

Last month, Samuel Addy Director and Research Economist at the University of Alabama's Center for Business and Economic Research, released a set of projections attempting to assess the cost and benefits to Alabama of the anti-immigrant law HB 56. Dr. Addy projects the loss of 70,000 to 140,000 jobs for the state, a depression of between 1.3 and 6.0 percent of the State’s Gross Domestic Product and a decline of between $57 million to $264 million in tax revenue. Costs to the state will outweigh benefits. On a press call hosted by the National Immigration Forum, Dr. Addy discussed his findings. Also on the call were the Rev. Ron Higey, pastor at the Birmingham International Church, who discussed the human cost of the law, and Marvin Miller, of the American Nursery and Landscape Association, who noted that the state’s agriculture will suffer greatly as implementation proceeds.

For more information, see the Forum’s press release, or listen to a recording of the press call.

The Center for American Progress released a report on February 15 that goes beyond economic forecasts to discuss some of the damage the law has already caused to the state’s agricultural industry, to the state’s reputation and to residents’ civil rights.

Supreme Court to Hear Arizona Case

On February 3, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear the federal government’s case against Arizona’s SB 1070. Arguments will be heard on April 25, meaning that by June, there will be a decision in the case.

ICE Fighting with Cook County, Illinois, Over Detainer Policy

Last September, the Cook County Board of Commissioners voted to decline to honor immigration detainers issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), unless the agency agreed to reimburse the county for its costs. Honoring these detainers (requests from ICE to a local enforcement agency to hold a person beyond the time they would otherwise be released by the local agency) was costing the county millions of dollars. ICE has since been pressuring the county to change course, using the case of a hit and run killing that took place last summer in Cook County, as leverage against the ordinance. Some Republican Senators have also stepped into the Cook County vs. ICE fight, sending a letter to DHS Secretary Napolitano and Attorney General Holder demanding legal action be brought against Cook County.

On February 9, the Board of Commissioners held a hearing on the ordinance. Some commissioners have proposed an amendment to the ordinance that would allow the Cook County Sheriff’s Office to honor the detainers in the case of individuals charged with certain felonies or who are on a federal list of suspected terrorists.

To read more, see this blog post from the National Immigrant Justice Center, which includes a clear summary of the issues. For more on immigration detainers, see this paper from the National Immigration Forum.


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