National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America


Good Money After Bad: The DHS Budget and Immigration

October 04, 2008

Washington, DC – A Continuing Resolution passed by Congress kept the Government in business past midnight on Tuesday, the end of the fiscal year.  Most parts of the government are funded only through March, 6, 2009, but the Department of Homeland Security’s budget for the whole year was approved.  DHS will receive $39.98 billion.  The following is a statement from Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum.

Happy Fiscal New Year, at least if you are in the DHS budget office. In the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis Congress still found time to approve the 2009 DHS budget in full. Rather than allocate funds to pay for integration of immigrants, backlog reduction, and improved services for immigration applicants, Congress has chosen to invest in dead end deportation-only programs that make no investment in America's future. 

Congress continues the exponential growth of personnel (4,361 new hires) at Customs and Border Protection (CBP), shovels another $775 million into controversial border fencing, increases the budget for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to nearly $5 billion, $254 million more than in 2008, and adds even more detention beds (1400) for ICE to fill with people rounded up at workplace raids.

Fully $1 billion of ICE’s budget will go to targeting criminal aliens, which would be great if that was what was actually happening.  So called “fugitive” teams have been striking in immigrant neighborhoods, disrupting families, and arresting, without warrant, any people who happen to be around.  Combined with massive workplace raids targeting workers, but not employers, immigrant communities already feel under siege.

Other enforcement-only programs are also included.  For example, states preparing to change their driver’s licenses to implement the REAL ID Act get $50 million; $5.4 million will go to a program to enlist state and local cops in enforcement under the 287(g) program; $2.4 billion goes the Office of Detention and Removal; and $100 million will go to the flawed E-Verify program, which was reauthorized by Congress only to early March of next year.

Of course, this all misses the point when it comes to immigration.  This budget is almost exclusively about enforcing broken laws, rather than fixing those laws and modernizing our immigration system.  With the backing of hardliners inside and outside of government, real immigration reform has been derailed, and this budget ensures that we will spend another year sending good money after bad.

Among the only bright spots is that there will be more accountability by DHS when it comes to immigrants in detention.  The spending bill stipulates that contractors who fail to abide by the Department’s detention standards will have their contracts canceled, that independent experts will evaluate the state of medical care for detainees, and that the budget for alternatives to detention has been increased by $9.1 million to $63 million. 

These dollops of sense on the big steaming pile of enforcement spending will help, but Congress and the new President must address the myriad problems with legal immigration, detention, due process rights, and the unresolved legal status of 12 million or so people who are already living here illegally.

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