House Appropriators Nix Obama Request for Less Enforcement Funding

By Janice Kephart on May 8, 2012

On Wednesday, May 9, House appropriators mark up their FY 2013 Subcommittee Draft Homeland Security Appropriations bill. The budget refuses the Obama administration requests to lower funding for enforcement activity on and inside the border, and denies a reorganization that would have destroyed the independence of arguably the most important border program that checks biometrics at the border to assure that people are who they say they are.

Here are the breakdowns:

Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
Total appropriations requested – $10,344,641,000
Total appropriations recommended – $10,164,401,000

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (CBP)
ICE total appropriations requested – $5,332,192,000
ICE total appropriations recommended – $5,473,787,000

Here are the highlights:

CBP Funding Level
At first glance, the CBP budget submitted by the president looks like it took a cut of about $180 million from the House Republican appropriators' full budget line of $10.16 billion. However, that is not the exactly the case. The appropriators denied a request to dismantle US-VISIT, which was added $249.2 million to CBP's budget. The committee is also not permitting CBP to move $8 million to sister agency Immigration and Enforcement (ICE)'s Enforcement and Removal Operations, but simply deleting that money from CBP and adding it to the ICE budget. In addition, the committee is creating more accountability for CBP technology innovations for the border into a single Automation Modernization account of $375 million. Once these changes are taken into account, actual personnel and operations funding for CBP is $77 million above the administration request and a slight increase over last year's budget by $9.4 million.

An interesting side note is that the appropriators have made CBP's budget contingent on a number of factors, perhaps the most critical being that "the Border Patrol shall maintain an active duty presence of not less than 21,370 full-time equivalent agents protecting the borders of the United States in the fiscal year." Budget statements such as this are only ever included when appropriators have seen agency actions that indicate, as this one does, that the agency is not living up to its statutory requirements. In this case, the appropriators are expressing a concern that DHS may not (or has not) been maintaining an active-duty Border Patrol at full levels.

House appropriators expressed deep concern for ICE's stated policies to retaliate against state involvement in supporting federal immigration enforcement; reduce detention beds; selective enforcement of immigration law; and minuscule worksite enforcement efforts.

Detention beds are restored and fully funded for 34,000. Also restored is support and integrity for state and local law enforcement training by ICE officers under a program designed as a precursor to Secure Communities, commonly referred to as the 287(g) program, while demanding completion of the Secure Communities program and a report back to appropriators on the program's implementation. Also included is direct funding for the Visa Security Program, which the State Department has sought to curtail repeatedly and to which I testified about in May 2011.

The bill insists on worksite enforcement and funds that program above the administration's request. Appropriators are also funding a moderate expansion of the Alternatives to Detention program which has significantly increased court appearances by those ICE seeks to deport but does not have adequate detention space to house.

More generally, ICE is directed to enforce immigration laws.

Here is the bill's language in key areas, stating that ICE funding is contingent on the following factors:

  • not less than $134,626,000 shall be for worksite enforcement investigations, audits, and activities
  • not less than $1,600,000,000 shall be available to identify aliens convicted of a crime who may be deportable, and to remove them from the United States once they are judged deportable, of which $138,249,000 shall be for completion of Secure Communities deployment
  • the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shall report to the Committees on Appropriations of the Senate and the House of Representatives, not later than 45 days after the end of each quarter of the fiscal year, on progress in implementing the preceding proviso and the funds obligated during that quarter to make such progress
  • the Secretary of Homeland Security shall prioritize the identification and removal of aliens convicted of a crime by the severity of that crime
  • funding made available ... shall maintain a level of not less than 34,000 detention beds through September 30, 2013
  • of the total amount provided, not less than $2,749,840,000 is for detention and removal operations, including transportation of unaccompanied minor aliens, of which not less than $91,460,000 shall be for alternatives to detention
  • of the total amount provided,$10,300,000 shall remain available until September 30, 2014, for the Visa Security Program
  • of the funds provided under this heading may be used to continue a delegation of law enforcement authority authorized under section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1357(g)) if the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General determines that the terms of the agreement governing the delegation of authority have been violated.

The most controversial presidential budget request pertaining to borders was arguably moving US-VISIT to CBP from its independence as a program office under the secretary. The appropriators have rejected that request, permitting US-VISIT to keep its core program, IDENT, under a new name, the Office of Biometric Identity Management, in its old location reporting to the secretary in the National Protection and Programs Directorate. The new name simply reflects that US-VISIT has grown out of its original mission to be the border biometric hub, to an integral player in supporting other border missions as well as federal and state law enforcement, and DOD.

What US-VISIT lost was more recently acquired adjunct missions that are more appropriately worked elsewhere as they are not biometric-centric in workload. ICE now will have overstay analysis and IT infrastructure. CBP's Office of Field Operations (ports of entry) gain full responsibility for entry/exit operations (and the political football of a still-unimplemented exit program).

In February 2012 I wrote why US-VISIT should not be dismantled. I'm very glad the appropriators agreed.