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.
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