Budgeting Immigration: Secretary Napolitano Talks Dollars and Programming

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano spent the past two days testifying in front of congressional committees addressing concerns over President Obama’s fiscal year (FY) 2011 DHS budget. Mixed in among the complaints over proposed cuts in cyber security and the Coast Guard were a number of budget decisions with immigration implications. Chief among those decisions were a cut in border patrol agents, the status of the troubled SBInet program, and worksite enforcement efforts—including the oft-maligned E-Verify program.

Secretary Napolitano confirmed that DHS would be completing the “first phase” of SBInet, but stopping after that and reevaluating the program and technology. She stressed that the long-delayed technology was tough to implement because it was in some of the roughest environmental areas and this delayed construction. Congressional opinions were mixed, with Senators Carper (D-DE) and McCain (R-AZ) calling the program a waste of time and money. House Republicans disagreed, as Representatives Rogers (R-MI), Souder (R-IN), and Miller (R-MI) were quick to extol the virtues of SBInet and plead for more funding. All of this follows a September 2009 report from the Government Accounting Office which implored Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to analyze whether or not the time and money spent on SBInet was a good investment considering its limited effectiveness.

Napolitano held the company line for DHS on other issues, stressing that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was focused on detention of “criminal” aliens, despite complaints from Rep. Rogers about the drop in non-criminal arrests of unauthorized immigrants. Napolitano also echoed ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton’s commitment to Secure Communities, a program which is designed to identify and remove “criminal” aliens from the U.S. Napolitano also confirmed that ICE was working to reform medical care for ICE detainees, but was unwilling to offer a timeline.

Others in Congress voiced their displeasure on worksite enforcement on the heels of an article in the yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. Napolitano stressed that I-9 audits were up over the last year, and that E-Verify covered more employers than ever before. However, Napolitano was unable to provide an explanation as to E-Verify’s staggering error rate.

Finally, on a less policy-specific note, Senator McCain showed signs of life on immigration reform. After rightly deriding border fence efforts, he noted that border apprehensions had declined and rhetorically asked Napolitano what was going to happen when the economy recovered. (The implication here is that the apprehensions have gone down not because of failed enforcement efforts, but because of the economy. This apparent understanding will help in enacting smart comprehensive immigration reform, as immigration enforcement without comprehensive reform does not work.)

With all of the time spent discussing immigration enforcement, comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) advocates may be disappointed that only one representative (Roybal-Allard of California) even mentioned CIR. Understandably, the focus of DHS is homeland security, but identifying the 11-12 million unauthorized immigrants currently in the U.S. would seem to be a boon to our nation’s security.

Photo by The National Guard.

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  • amberdru

    God this is dishonest!

    Wednesday, March 17, 2010
    E-Verify: Truth in Numbers
    Recently, some media reports have used statistics that appear to call into question the effectiveness and accuracy of E-Verify. I’d like to set record straight. A report by the independent research firm Westat, using a sample from a three month period in 2008, concluded that E-Verify was accurate 96 percent of the time. Since then, the Obama administration has taken significant steps to further improve E-Verify.

    Read the report for yourself here.

    What else did this report tell us about E-Verify?
    93.8 percent of workers screened by E-Verify were authorized for employment—and the system instantly and accurately confirmed more than 99 percent of these eligible workers.
    The remaining 6.2 percent were not eligible for employment. Out of this estimated 6.2 percent, approximately half were told they are work authorized when they were not—just 3.3 percent of the overall population screened by E-Verify.
    To be clear, this means that only an estimated 3.3 percent of all workers screened by E-Verify were incorrectly told they were work authorized.
    The system’s accuracy and efficiency continues to improve, reflecting the changes and improvements to E-Verify that USCIS has made over the past year—and continues to make.

    Our anti-fraud efforts are improving E-Verify’s ability to prevent illegal workers from using stolen identities to obtain employment—including a photograph screening capability that allows a participating employer to check if photos on Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) or Permanent Resident Cards (green cards) are exact matches with the images stored in USCIS databases.

    USCIS is also planning additional enhancements to E-Verify that will further improve employer compliance, reduce fraud and increase efficiency. We are adding U.S. passports to the list of documents available to provide photo confirmation, and working with states to access state driver’s license data—the #1 document used to validate identity. We’re also planning to launch a pilot program to explore the use of biometric or biographic-based verification.

    Employers at more than 600,000 worksites nationwide used E-Verify to check the work authorization status of more than 8.5 million workers during fiscal year 2009, and E-Verify has processed more than five million queries during the last five months alone.

    Quite simply, E-Verify ensures a legal workforce while protecting the rights of employers and employees alike—accurately, easily and efficiently. It is critically important to a legal workforce and directly impacts national security and our economy. The ultimate success of E-Verify will rely on public-private cooperation, and we are committed to continuing to work with all of our partners to improve this tool.

    Lauren Kielsmeier is the Acting Deputy Director and Chief of Staff for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services