A recent study, which claimed that immigration resources are at their historical height and constitute a substantial portion of the federal budget, became the flashpoint for a contentious hearing in the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.
In January 2013, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) released a study that concluded, among other things, that federal immigration enforcement accounted for more of the budget than all other forms of law enforcement combined. Other points made by the study include that deportations are at an all-time high and border crossing are the lowest in more than a decade.
This study, released in January 2013, has been cited by a number of leading Democrats, including Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano when she used the study to claim gains in border security. Here’s how ABC covered the release of the report in January 2013:
Spending for immigration enforcement significantly outweighs the cumulative spending for all other major criminal federal law enforcement in the U.S., according to a report released today by the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
With this in mind, the report, “Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of a Formidable Machinery,” finds that the U.S. must move beyond an enforcement-driven approach to immigration and focus on more effective workplace enforcement and changing immigration policy to better suit the country’s economic needs.
On February 5, 2013, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to discuss the veracity of this report. Muzaffar Chishti represented MPI at the hearings. Chishti is the director of MPI’s office at New York University School of Law.
Jessica Vaughan, a policy director at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), represented the other side. Right away, Vaughan challenged the central premise of the MPI report. While it’s true that DHS gets more for enforcement activities than all other agencies combined, Vaughan argued, DHS does far more than simply immigration enforcement, and the immigration enforcement part of DHS’s budget is impossible to measure.
In 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) received about $20 million to fund Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and US-VISIT for the missions of immigration and customs enforcement and foreign visitor data collection and analysis. This amount is about one-third of overall federal law enforcement expenditures (not counting most military and intelligence service law enforcement nor Coast Guard), which totaled about $39 billion in 2012.2
That might sound like we are spending an enormous sum on immigration law enforcement. But the immigration agencies’ work encompasses far more than immigration law enforcement. Customs enforcement represents a huge share of these agencies’ budgets, especially at the ports of entry, along with intellectual property enforcement; transnational gang suppression; child pornography investigations; fighting human trafficking; returning stolen antiquities; doing cargo inspections; and interdicting drugs, weapons, bulk cash, and other contraband that is smuggled across our borders.
Immigration and customs enforcement overlaps with the mission of many other federal law enforcement agencies, and sometimes even surpasses them in productivity. For example, in 2012, CBP agents seized 4.2 million pounds of illegal drugs — more than three times the amount seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration in the previous year. In the last eight years, under the auspices of Operation Community Shield, ICE has arrested 27,600 gang members; no comparable statistics could be found for the FBI, but there is no doubt that ICE plays a leading role in addressing this serious public safety problem. In addition, both ICE and CBP routinely make significant seizures of illegal weapons and currency from criminal organizations trying to enter or already operating in the United States.
In his rebuttal, Chishti largely echoed the conclusions of MPI’s original report.
By almost any available metric, the level of immigration enforcement in the United States now stands at a record high. In fiscal 2012, spending for the federal government’s two main immigration enforcement agencies, US Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as well as its primary immigration enforcement technology initiative, the US-VISIT program, reached $17.9 billion. This amount is nearly 15 times greater than the adjusted budget of the former Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) in 1986 and 24 percent greater than the combined fiscal 2012 budgets of all other principal criminal federal law enforcement agencies: the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Secret Service, US Marshall Services, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).
This report will have a role to play in the larger illegal immigration debate. Doris Miessner, who wrote the report for MPI, said to the Washington Post shortly after the report was published, “Enforcement alone — no matter how well administered — is an insufficient answer to the broad challenges that illegal and legal immigration pose for America’s future.”
With bi-partisan support appearing to back some sort of comprehensive immigration reform plan, the state of current immigration enforcement becomes a central issue. Many liberals will try and claim that the border is already sufficiently secured, and therefore so-called amnesty should be applied immediately to all those in the country illegally in the country right now. That side has been buoyed with the release of the MPI report, and thus, its veracity should be of critical concern.
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