Archive for February 2013


U.S. Spends More on Immigration Enforcement than the Combined Funds of All Other Federal Criminal Law Enforcement Agencies

February 23rd, 2013 — 2:37pm

In a January 2013 report, the nonpartisan think-tank Migration Policy Institute (MPI) found that the U.S. government spends more on federal immigration enforcement than on all other principal federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined, with nearly $18 billion spent in fiscal year 2012.  This is approximately 24 percent higher than the collective spending for the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals Service, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. MPI also found that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) refer more cases for federal prosecution than all Justice Department law enforcement agencies.

MPI’s comprehensive report offers a detailed analysis of the current immigration enforcement system and traces the evolution of the system, particularly in the post-9/11 era, in terms of budgets, personnel, enforcement actions, and technology. The result is the creation of a complex, interconnected, cross-agency system – in some ways by deliberate design; in others, by happenstance.

Six distinct pillars identify how this modern-day system is organized: border enforcement, visa controls and travel screening, information and interoperability of data systems, workplace enforcement, the intersection of the criminal justice system and immigration enforcement, and detention and removal of noncitizens. “This modern-day system,” says its authors, “extends well beyond U.S. borders to screen visitors against multiple intelligence and law enforcement databases before they arrive and also reaches into local communities across the country via partnerships with state and local law enforcement, information sharing and other initiatives.”

The following are among the report’s key findings:

  • deportations have reached record highs, with more than 4 million noncitizens deported since 1990, with removals rising from over 30,000 in FY 1990 to almost 400,000 in FY 2011.
  • fewer than half of the noncitizens deported are removed pursuant to a formal hearing before an immigration judge; instead the majority are by DHS via its administrative authority.
  • apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border fell to 40-year lows in 2011.
  • immigration enforcement has evolved to be a key tool in the nation’s counterterrorism strategies.

For the last many years, “enforcement first” was sought by successive congresses and administrations as a precondition for reforming the nation’s immigration laws.  The report makes clear that changes to the system accomplished this goal, having focused almost entirely on building enforcement programs and improving their performance. The findings pave the way for comprehensive immigration reform, given that the country’s enforcement priorities have been met.

Comment » | Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, E-Verify, Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Comprehensive Immigration Reform on the Fast Track: Concrete Bill Expected in March; VAWA and Other Legislation

February 23rd, 2013 — 2:32pm

For the last two months, comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) has dominated the airwaves, from President Obama’s inauguration address and State of the Union, to hearings in the Senate and House of Representatives, to almost daily news articles in major national and ethnic newspapers, on the immediate need to overhaul our country’s immigration laws, for the benefit of our country and for the more than 11 million undocumented currently living here.  So far, the Administration and leading senators have issued two independent proposals to fix our broken immigration system in a comprehensive and common-sense approach, and their quick action demonstrates a real commitment to getting reform done in 2013.

While the precise legislative provisions of a immigration reform bill are not yet certain, the key points outlined by President Obama and the bipartisan group of senators working on a bill are similar.  Overall, the Senate plan outlined the following key points:

  • Creating a “tough but fair” path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the U.S. that is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required;
  • Reforming our legal immigration system to better recognize the importance of characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families;
  • Creating an effective, and probable, mandatory employment-verification system that prevents identity theft, ends the hiring of future unauthorized workers, and includes stiff penalties for egregious offenses;
  • Establishing an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation’s workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers;
  • Reducing backlogs in the family and employment visa categories;
  • Providing permanent resident status to immigrants who have received a Ph.D. or Master’s degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM fields) from a U.S. university;
  • Establishing a new agricultural worker program.

Where are we now?  Leaders in the Senate have given themselves a deadline of March 1 to produce legislative language that embodies the principles they released. The Administration, which has privately drafted an immigration bill so that it can “be ready” if the Senate fails to continue to move forward, has made it clear that the President will take a back seat to lawmakers, but also wants to see real progress by March. Once a bill is introduced by the Senate, it will go through normal Senate procedure, including hearings and a markup in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Debate will follow, then a vote on the Senate floor. To overcome a potential filibuster – currently viewed as probable – the bill will need to receive at least 60 votes. Once passed by the full Senate, the bill would move to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Already, a couple of congressional hearings have been held and more are to come. On February 13, the Senate Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on immigration reform, featuring DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and other witnesses. On February 5, the House Judiciary Committee kicked off its first immigration-focused hearing in the 113th Congress.

Meanwhile, the White House website has devoted a special section to President Obama’s 2013 comprehensive immigration reform proposal, with basic resources for the public and as a way to help advance the legislation.

It’s hard not to be extremely encouraged by the lightening-fast pace taken by Congress and the Administration to enact CIR. And, while the fight for a fair and balanced immigration system will continue over the next several months, the momentum for change is breathtaking.

We will keep you posted.

Senate Passes VAWA Reauthorization; House to Consider Bill

On February 12, the Senate passed by a vote of 78-22 the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, a bill that strengthens protections for all victims of sexual and domestic violence, particularly Native Americans, immigrants, and LGBT survivors of violence. The bill passed with significant bipartisan support. All eyes now move to the House of Representatives, where the legislation will be considered. Despite bipartisan support in the Senate, VAWA stalled in the House last year.

Other Immigration Legislation of Interest

The House of Representatives recently introduced two bills that are likely to become part of CIR.  They are the Immigration Innovation (I2) Act of 2013, which makes changes to the H-1B and student visas and increases access to employment-based green cards; and Reuniting Families Act, which promotes family unity in the immigration system and improvements to the family-based immigration preference system. Significantly, and among other things, the bill allows same-sex partners to apply for family-based immigration benefits.

Comment » | Immigration reform

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