U.S. Spends More on Immigration Enforcement than on FBI and DEA

Nearly $187 Billion Spent on Federal Immigration Enforcement over Past 26 Years

The U.S. government spends more on federal immigration enforcement than on all other principal federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined, with the nearly $18 billion spent in fiscal 2012 approximately 24 percent higher than collective spending for the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report finds.

The nation’s main immigration enforcement agencies, 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.

And a larger number of individuals are detained each year in the immigration detention system (just under 430,000 in fiscal 2011) than are serving sentences in federal Bureau of Prisons facilities for all other federal crimes.

“Today, immigration enforcement can be seen as the federal government’s highest criminal law enforcement priority, judged on the basis of budget allocations, enforcement actions and case volumes,” said MPI Senior Fellow Doris Meissner, who co-authored the report, Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of a Formidable Machinery.

The 182-page report offers a detailed analysis of the current immigration enforcement system that was set in motion with passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) in 1986. The report traces the evolution of the system, particularly in the post-9/11 era, in terms of budgets, personnel, enforcement actions and technology. It examines individual programs and results, ranging from Secure Communities and 287(g) to deportations, detention, post-9/11 visa screening and new federal databases, explaining how they have intersected — in some ways by deliberate design, in others by happenstance — to create a complex, interconnected, cross-agency system.

Deportations have reached record highs, apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border fell to 40-year lows in 2011, more non-citizens than ever before are in immigration detention, and immigration enforcement has been granted new standing as a key tool in the nation’s counterterrorism strategies.

“The facts on the ground have changed dramatically and challenge long-held public skepticism over the federal government’s will and ability to enforce the nation’s immigration laws,” said report co-author Donald Kerwin, executive director of the Center for Migration Studies and an MPI non-resident senior fellow.

New Studies Show Time is Right for Real Immigration Reform

Two new studies on immigration enforcement show that the border first/border only immigration policy is not enough.  After spending more on immigration enforcement than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined, and achieving record levels of enforcement, the immigration system remains broken.  The missing piece—and the centerpiece of the reform we need to see in Congress—is dealing directly with the status of the 11 million immigrants without papers here today.  The reports add new momentum to the consensus for reform that is growing in Congress.

“This report provides an important lesson for the ‘border first’ champions in the GOP: we simply can’t enforce our way to a sensible and workable immigration solution,” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director at America’s Voice Education Fund.  “While the GOP claims to be the party of fiscal responsibility, nothing could be more irresponsible than throwing more and more money at the problem and pretending it will finally work.  It’s time for Congress to realize that what’s missing is immigration reform that includes a roadmap to citizenship for immigrants here without papers.”

A study released by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) examining immigration enforcement spending found that nearly $18 billion federal tax dollars were spent on immigration enforcement just last year.  This is more than the amount spent on every other federal law enforcement agency combined.  The report noted, “the ‘enforcement first’ policy that has been advocated by many in Congress and the public as a precondition for considering broader immigration reform has de facto become the nation’s singular immigration policy.”

In an op-ed in the Washington Post timed to coincide with the release of MPI report, Doris Meissner, one of the report authors and former INS commissioner, wrote, “Even with record-setting expenditures and the full use of a wide array of statutory and administrative tools, enforcement alone — no matter how well administered — is an insufficient answer to the broad challenges that illegal and legal immigration pose for America’s future.”

The MPI report comes on the heels of a new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) that states “those opposed to comprehensive immigration reform still point to deficiencies in border security as a reason to stall new immigration policy, but they are ignoring the facts.”  CAP shows that the “border is more secure now than it has ever been” and provides aninfographic that compares the current state of the border with border-security benchmarks included in both the 2006 and 2007 Senate immigration reform bills.  As CAP demonstrates, “[t]hose benchmarks have now been met, and in most cases surpassed, by the investment of unprecedented resources in border security efforts.”

As the New York Times describes, Meissner highlighted that “public perceptions of uncontrolled migration across the border with Mexico ‘have not caught up with the reality.’” This false sense of border insecurity is advanced in part by the “border security first” excuse for inaction some Republicans used in the past – a politically-motivated talking point of based on myth rather than fact.

Unprecedented manpower, infrastructure and technology deployed in the last ten years for border security efforts led to a drop in apprehensions at the Southwest border to a level not seen since the 1970s, proving that the border is much safer and better monitored than ever.

Despite the new data to the contrary, Governor Jan Brewer (R-AZ) – the signer of Arizona’s noxious SB1070 “show me your papers” immigration law – continues to push the “border security first” argument.  As the Arizona Daily Sun describes, “Gov. Jan Brewer can’t put a specific definition on what it means to have a secure border.  But she said residents along the boundary with Mexico will know it when it happens.  The question of what Brewer thinks is politically significant since the governor said she will not support any form of immigration reform unless and until the border is secure.”

Concluded Sharry, “The ‘border first’ talking point may have had its day in the past but it is now a message at odds with facts on the ground and the political imperative for the Republican Party.  Jan Brewer’s take is so yesterday, and immigration reform that puts 11 million Americans-in-waiting is so now.”

Game On: Rep. Gutierrez Joins House Judiciary Committee to Fight for Immigration Reform

Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL) announced that he will join the House Judiciary Committee, stepping away from a plum post as the third ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, so that he can fight for immigration reform.  As Rep. Gutierrez stated, “passing comprehensive immigration reform is my passion and my commitment to my constituents and immigrants all across our country…I felt I must be on the Judiciary Committee during this Congress to help the others on the Committee get immigration reform to the finish line.”

The following is a reaction from Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund:

“He’s the immigration reform movement’s leader and champion, and we’re heartened to see Rep. Gutierrez put himself in a position to join fellow immigration champions like Rep. Zoe Lofgren on the House Judiciary Committee.  On the heels of both President Obama’s and Vice President Biden’s pledges that immigration reform is a top Obama Administration priority, and alongside both parties’ political imperative to enact real reform, today’s news is yet another sign that immigration reform is up in 2013.”


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