The fiscal 2015 budget plan President Obama introduced yesterday for the Department of Homeland Security seeks to sell so-called comprehensive immigration reform by claiming it will reduce the deficit. The proposal, already considered dead-on-arrival in the House, also maintains some key programs like E-Verify that most consider critical to the passage of any immigration package.
The Administration introduced its budget at a time when officials are looking for ways to spur movement on comprehensive amnesty legislation. The budget makes a new pitch for reform, claiming that it will reduce the budget deficit. The plan assumes Congress will pass a comprehensive amnesty, irrespective of its actual prospects, and says it will produce $158 billion in budget savings over 10 years. That estimate is similar to the Congressional Budget Office’s $175 billion savings estimate under the Senate-passed comprehensive amnesty bill.
The budget proposes $124 million to expand the E-Verify system and improve its fraud prevention and detection capabilities. The latter largely involves expansion of a self-check program that allows people to confirm the accuracy of government records on them. Over 500,000 employers are currently enrolled in the system and each week, the number grows by about 1,500 new employers, according to the budget.
The administration also proposes to speed up deportations, by further prioritizing the removal of violent criminal aliens, and to continue ICE’s 287(g) program at the reduced funding level of $24 million. The latter program deputizes local and state law enforcement officials to take part in the deportation process.
Illegal-alien advocates have been pushing Obama to stop all deportations so the prospect of speeding up deportations, or continuing the 287(g) program, angered them. Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing network, said “The president’s budget belies his rhetoric on immigration, and it calls into question whether he is sincere about protecting immigrants and advancing immigration reform in the Congress. The administration cannot hide its own record behind Republican’s extremism when it continues to propose funding for extremely cruel enforcement.” Even before the budget’s introduction, Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, called President Obama the “deporter-in-chief.”
Beyond pushing for a comprehensive amnesty, the budget contains some proposals advocates had requested. Short of stopping all deportations, advocates had pushed the Administration to reduce its reliance on detention facilities to house illegal aliens awaiting deportation. They have advocated monitoring detainees through alternatives such as ankle bracelets or check-ins with a case officer, which would give the illegal aliens more freedom while their deportation is being appealed.
The fiscal year 2014 budget law requires the Administration to maintain 34,000 beds for detainees awaiting deportation. Obama’s budget proposal would reduce the bed mandate to about 30,500 and significantly increase monitoring alternatives. The plan claims the reduction would produce about $185 million in “savings.”
"This level of beds will allow [ICE] to detain the current mandatory population, as well as the high-risk, non-mandatory detainees," the proposal says. "ICE will ensure the most cost-effective use of our appropriated funding by focusing the more-costly detention capabilities on priority and mandatory detainees, while placing low-risk, non-mandatory detainees in lower cost alternatives to detention programs."
Advocates also have called for increasing the number of immigration judges to reduce the backlog of pending cases. As of Feb. 2014, there were 360,186 pending cases all throughout the U.S., according to TRAC data. The budget calls for hiring 35 new immigration judge teams, much less than the 225 extra teams provided over three years in the Senate-passed comprehensive amnesty bill.