National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

Blog & Updates

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:




Enforcement
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.

Schedule
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 (http://www.uscis.gov/citizenshipawareness), 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.


 

Crossroads Campaign Solutions