Paying the Price of the Immigration Crackdown

Are Americans willing to pay for the intensifying crackdown on immigrants?

The Bush administration and Congress are fueling an increasingly hard-line immigration policy with seemingly unlimited federal funding. The Department of Homeland Security, which in 2003 became the new home of both the Border Patrol and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, is requesting a 19% increase for immigration enforcement and border control for 2009.

The requested $12.1 billion will pay for the expanding immigration-related operations of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the two principal DHS agencies that enforce immigration laws.

With its $5 billion budget, ICE pledges to "protect the American people from the illegal entry of goods and the entry of terrorists and other criminals seeking to cross our Nation’s borders."

The bulk of the ICE budget is dedicated to immigration enforcement through investigations, interior enforcement, detention, and deportation of illegal immigrants. Other ICE programs, like the Federal Protective Service (which protects federal buildings), have little or nothing to do with immigration enforcement.

Like ICE, Customs and Border Protection also couches its mission in terms of the president’s "war against terrorism." With its $9.3 billion current budget, CBP forms the "frontline in protecting the American public against terrorists and instruments of terror."

Since 2002 the budgets for the operations of these two DHS agencies have ballooned. Customs and Border Protection’s budget increased from $5 billion in 2002 to $9.3 billion in 2008 while Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s budget rose from $2.4 billion in 2002 to $5 billion in 2008.

The drive to deport immigrants and stop them at the border has become a leading thrust of the government’s post-9/11 focus on homeland security. The overall DHS budget has increased steadily since its creation in 2003—rising from $35 billion to $47 billion in 2008. But the funds dedicated to immigration control and border security have increased disproportionately, doubling in size while total DHS funding increased by just a third.

By way of comparison, the combined budgets of CBP and ICE in 2008 were 80% larger than the annual budget of the Environmental Protection Agency, and nearly $4 billion more than the State Department’s budget.

More Boots and Beds

The multi-billion dollar budgets for immigration and border control have produced an employment and construction boom along the southwestern border as the government rushes to hire thousands more Border Patrol agents, extend the border fence, pay for new detention facilities, and upgrade ports of entry.

Nine thousand Border Patrol agents were deployed along the border in 2001; today there are nearly 18,000 border police, and a scheduled $500 million budget increase will add 2,200 agents in 2009.

The proposed SAVE Act, which has 160 supporters in the House, would authorize an additional 8,000 beds at detention centers and 5,000 more agents. A study by the Congressional Budget Office concluded that the SAVE Act will cost the nation dearly. If implemented, federal revenues will decrease by $17.3 billion over the 2009-2018 period as immigrant workers are pushed outside the tax system, and increase discretionary spending by $10.3 billion.

ICE is scrambling to find facilities to house all the immigrants the Border Patrol and ICE agents round up. Since 2001 it has added 13,000 beds in new detention facilities, and the 2009 budget will fund 1,000 more beds, bringing the total number of detainee beds to more than 32,000 beds for detainees. As local jails and federal detention centers overflow with immigrants waiting for deportation or court appearances, ICE is sending thousands of immigrants to privately owned detention centers run by companies like Corrections Corporation of America.

Although opposition from local governments and private landowners has slowed down progress on the planned 700-mile border fence, DHS is moving ahead with its plans create a virtual fence. Using surveillance and communications technology developed by Boeing, the department’s SBInet project—part of its Secure Border Initiative—aims to create a virtual barrier along sections of the northern and southern borders. Networked by a Boeing-created operating system, a series of towers along the border with radar, sensors, and cameras will alert the Border Patrol of possible border crossings.

Delays and deficiencies in the initiative’s pilot project along 28 miles of the Arizona-Sonora border have raised new concerns about the cost and worth of the virtual fence. Despite the failure of the pilot project, DHS is continuing to work with Boeing in designing an operating system for SBInet. Boeing is now working to redesign an operating system developed for the U.S. Army under its Future Combat System so that it meets the expectations of the Border Patrol.

Originally projected to cost $8 billion, Homeland Security’s inspector general warned that the final price tag of the virtual fence will likely triple the initial estimate.

Justice and Defense Join In

The budgets of the Justice and Defense Departments have also expanded to cover the costs of the immigration crackdown.

According to the DOJ fact sheet "Drugs and Border Security," the President’s 2008 Budget "supports the Department’s work to protect our borders and increase immigration enforcement. These resources are needed to meet the steadily increasing caseload generated by increased law enforcement efforts and aggressive enforcement of immigration statutes."

There is no DOJ budget breakdown of what it spends for immigration enforcement, but immigration work is found largely in its Executive Office for Immigration Review (EIOR), Civil Division, U.S. Attorneys, and U.S. Marshals Service. Since 2001 the EIOR budget increased 57% to $249.2 million in 2008. New initiatives will allow DOJ to hire 40 federal marshals and nearly 200 attorneys and judges to handle the flood of immigration cases as DHS steps up its immigration enforcement.

In 2009 DOJ is launching its Southwest Border Enforcement Initiative, whose "strategic goal" is to "prevent crime, enforce federal laws, and represent the rights and interests of the American people." While the initiative will primarily focus on the illicit drug trade, the DOJ notes that "the southwest border also poses significant challenges related to illegal immigration and illicit weapons."

As part of this $100 million initiative, DOJ is asking for increases in the budgets of EIOR ($10 million), U.S. Attorneys ($8.4 million), and U.S. Marshals ($12.7 million). According to DOJ, "Attorneys and paralegals are needed to respond to cross-border criminal activities and to the increases in immigration cases resulting from the substantial increases in Border Patrol agents and the U.S. government’s overall effort to gain operational control of the border."

Through its various divisions, DOJ is set to spend about $433 million in immigration enforcement through 2008.

The Defense Department is also a player in immigration enforcement. Although the military is precluded by law from performing tasks of civilian law enforcement, the Pentagon plays a supportive role in counter-drug and immigration control efforts.

In 2006 President Bush deployed 6,000 National Guard in Operation Jump Start to support the Border Patrol in its border surveillance operations. The National Guard border mission has been covered by Defense Department allocations ($708 million for 2006, $415 million for 2007, and $247 million for 2008) authorized by Congress.

Local Immigration Enforcement

In the last few years, many local and state governments have joined the anti-immigrant bandwagon, tasking their police forces and other government employees with immigration enforcement and creating new strains on public budgets throughout the country.

In the first four months of 2008, more than 1,100 immigration-related bills have been introduced in state legislatures, most of them aimed to make it more difficult for immigrants to live and work in their states. Proponents of anti-immigrant measures say that bills to deny illegal immigrants housing, education, driver’s licenses, and employment will improve economic standards for legal residents and citizens. But there is a growing backlash against anti-immigrant laws by those who say that these bills not only disrupt and divide communities but also come with a steep bill. In Price William County in Virginia, where police have been deputized by ICE to enforce immigration laws, the county is facing a budget crisis because of the additional costs of housing immigrants in the overcrowded county jail.

ICE encourages state and local police forces to cooperate with federal authorities in immigration enforcement through its Agreements of Cooperation in Communities to Enhance Safety and Security (ICE ACCESS) that provide federal funds and training to police. But local governments are complaining that the federal government falls short of covering all the additional costs. In Gastonia, North Carolina, the county commission receives payments through the ACCESS program but is now facing a $175,000 shortfall because ICE payments don’t fully cover the costs of hiring and training additional deputies.

The Price of Safety and Security

The price of our immigration policy is too high. Not because more than $12 billion is too much to pay Homeland Security for our "safety and security" but because our current immigration policy is misdirected and morally bankrupt.

The immigration enforcement and border security programs of Homeland Security, Justice, and Defense are only marginally related to enhancing the safety and security of Americans. Our immigration policy today responds to the forces of fear and hate unleashed by the Bush administration with its ill-begotten war on terrorism.

Hundreds of miles of new border fences and many thousands more Border Patrol agents are a poor substitute for an immigration policy that directly addresses the status of millions of immigrants who have made their homes in our communities.

Hundreds more attorneys at the Justice Department to prosecute immigration cases and thousands more beds at immigration detention centers are no substitute for an immigration policy shaped by a realistic assessment of the country’s need for immigrant labor.

Just as we are squandering billions abroad in the war in Iraq, we are wasting billions of dollars at home in what has become a war on immigrants. The collateral costs of this anti-immigrant crackdown—including labor shortages, families torn apart by deportations, overcrowded jails and detentions centers, deaths on the border, courts clogged with immigration cases, and divided communities—are also immense.

Together the financial and social costs of the administration’s "enforcement-first" immigration policy are too high to bear.



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