Many readers know that, for whatever reason, federal fiscal years (FY) begin in October of each year. Thus, FY 2020 will begin on October 1, slightly less than seven months from now. With this in mind, on March 11, the administration announced that it would submit to Congress its proposed budget for FY 2020.
From an immigration perspective, this budget is remarkable, and quite possibly unprecedented, not simply because of the dollar figures or funding proposals, but because of the prominence border security and immigration issues generally play in the verbiage and justifications that accompany the raw figures. I don't recall its like. Here are a couple of examples from the presidential statement that accompanies the budget:
My Administration is confronting the national security and humanitarian crisis on our southern border, and we are accepting the moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens. This includes our obligation to the millions of immigrants living in the United States today who followed the rules and respected our laws.
Securing our Borders and Protecting our Sovereignty. As President, my highest duty is the defense of our Nation — which is why finishing the border wall is an urgent national priority. All who are privileged to hold elected office must work together to create an immigration system that promotes wage growth and economic opportunity, while preventing drugs, terrorism, and crime from entering the United States. Immigration policy, like all policy, must serve the interests of Americans living here today — including the millions of new Americans who came here legally to join our national family. The American people are entitled to a strong border that stops illegal immigration, and a responsible visa policy that protects our security and our workforce. My Budget continues to reflect these priorities, and I look forward to working with the Congress to finish the border wall and build a safe, just, and lawful immigration system that will benefit generations of Americans to come.
There is also an interesting, but subtle, comment on p. 26, covering the Department of Defense (DOD) budget, which states in relevant part, "DOD will continue to ... strengthen border security, retain territorial control, and disrupt ISIS's capability to attack the U.S. homeland and America's allies." (Emphasis added.) This suggests to me that during the Trump administration, whether of two or six more years, the military will continue to be tasked with augmenting the work of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in its struggle to regain control of U.S. borders. This is a welcome gesture, at least to me, because — and I speak as the son of a career soldier — it is a curiosity that we can send troops into harm's way and spend hundreds of billions of dollars abroad, and yet hear politicians and pundits so frequently opine that the military has no responsibility for protecting our very own frontiers.
In the portion of the budget relating to DHS, there are also some interesting observations:
In addition to aggressively pursuing the resources necessary to support border security and immigration control, the Administration is calling upon the Congress to enact immigration reforms, including ending chain migration, canceling the visa lottery program, and moving from low-skilled migration to a merit-based immigration system, thereby raising wages, shrinking the deficit, and raising living standards for both U.S.-born and immigrant workers.
The asserted commitments to ending chain migration and raising living standards for U.S.-born and (lawful) immigrant workers are particularly welcome, in light of the president's recent unscripted remarks urging massive increases in guestworker programs. As regards the latter, one can't simultaneously import hundreds of thousands of cheap foreign laborers and at the same time provide income security for citizens and lawful workers, especially the most vulnerable on the lower rungs of our economic ladder; he's trying to square the circle.
In some ways, this budget makes me wistful because if, in at least a few of the 40-plus years that I have been actively a part of, or writing about, immigration issues, past presidents had done what this president is attempting to do, we would not be at the stage of gridlock that we are facing with our federal immigration system; all those years frittered away by presidents of both parties who were perfectly willing to talk the talk, but never quite got around to walking the walk on the need for rational immigration control in the national interest (see, e.g., here, here, and here).
But the dollar figures also make clear that the president is willing to put his money where his mouth is; this is a refreshing change for someone such as myself, who is jaded by the ways of Washington politics. Among other things, the budget proposes:
- $5 billion to construct 200 miles of border wall along the southwest border;
- $192 million to hire 750 Border Patrol agents, plus 171 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) port inspection officers and support staff;
- $367 million for CBP aircraft, boats, and surveillance tools;
- $314 million to hire 1,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, plus 128 trial attorneys and 538 support staff; and
- $2.7 billion to fully fund 54,000 detention beds for detaining criminal aliens and illegal border-crossers, including aliens with meritless asylum claims, plus amounts needed to increase participation in the Alternative to Detention program up to a maximum of 120,000 aliens.
All of these are worthy goals and investments, but the budget proposal doesn't stop there. Here are two additional gold nuggets:
Provides Additional Mandatory Border and Immigration Enforcement Funding. The Administration proposes the creation of a Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Fund to provide the additional mandatory funding resources necessary to meet the President's border security and immigration detention goals. These goals include the expansion of immigration detention capacity to 60,000 — including 10,000 new family detention beds — and the hiring of 15,000 new DHS law enforcement officers, 600 new ICE immigration court prosecuting attorneys, 100 new immigration judge teams and associated support at the Department of Justice's (DOJ) Executive Office for Immigration Review, and 50 new Federal prosecutors at DOJ's Offices of the United States Attorneys.
The Budget proposes mandatory, nationwide use of the E-Verify system, an online tool that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States. E-Verify is available at no cost to employers and has an accuracy rate of over 99.8 percent The Administration continues to require the use of E-Verify by Federal contractors to ensure the proper utilization of Federal dollars.
Needless to say, pundits are already calling the administration's budget proposal dead-on-arrival in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives (see here and here), which these days seems to care more about giving illegal aliens the right to vote than in securing our border, preserving national sovereignty, or protecting our children's future.
With such a significant obstacle, how might the administration achieve its ambitious (and long overdue) goals where immigration is concerned, without the need to resort to another shutdown, or a whole series of soul-grinding continuing budget resolutions that satisfy no one?
That's a question that will puzzle people who are a lot smarter than I am, but the budget reconciliation process embedded into law limits the ability to filibuster in the Senate, where Republicans rule. It is a potentially powerful weapon in the budget wars. And while budget impasses can be — as we've recently seen — a recipe for stasis, there's little doubt that the House as presently constituted is going to push, and push hard, to maintain or even raise funding for a whole host of domestic programs and entitlements. These will require both the Senate and the president to agree to raise budget ceilings, unless they're willing to jettison all of their own budget priorities, which seems unlikely. If they aren't able to deliver, House Democrats stand to lose big politically at a time when they've probably already over-committed to their base with promises of healthcare for all, free education, etc., etc.
All of this suggests the need for each side to give in to the other's key demands, especially since the president also possesses leverage through his veto power if things start to really head south. Will such give-and-take happen? I don't know. The partisan divide may be too deep at this point.