The President’s proposed FY 2012 budget for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) illustrates the Obama administration’s conflicted priorities when it comes to immigration. On the one hand, the budget increases funding for worthy causes such as immigrant integration, alternatives to detention, and civil-liberties oversight of enforcement programs. On the other hand, these funding increases are dwarfed by the size of the budget for border and interior immigration enforcement. In other words, despite some good intentions, and an effort to balance the impact of enforcement programs, ultimately the budget reflects a commitment to the enforcement-without-reform policies that have failed so miserably over the past two decades.

The enforcement-heavy focus of the President’s proposed DHS budget is readily apparent in the top-line numbers. The budget for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) would be $11.8 billion; up 3 percent from FY 2011. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would receive $5.8 billion, up 1 percent from the previous year. And U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) would get $2.9 billion, down 5 percent from FY 2011. As is so often case, immigration services get the short end of the stick.

The administration spares no expense in funding a wide range of enforcement measures:

  • $2 billion for detention (“custody operations”). This is an increase of $157.7 million from FY 2011 and would fund 33,400 detention beds.
  • $527.6 million for border fencing, infrastructure, and technology. Due to cancellation of the costly and problem-plagued SBInet program, this is down from $800 million the previous year, but still represents a sizeable chunk of money.
  • $184 million for “Secure Communities,” a controversial program intended to identify immigrants in U.S. jails who are deportable under immigration law. This represents a $64 million increase from the previous year and would expand Secure Communities “to 96% of all jurisdictions nationally in FY 2012.”

In comparison, programs that could reshape the immigration system are given only modest increases and comprise a tiny portion of the immigration budget:

  • $72.4 million for the alternatives to detention (ATD) program, which is intended for immigrants who are not subject to mandatory detention and are not a danger to the public. This is an increase of $2.5 million from FY 2011 and would add 2,500 “enrollees” to the ATD program.
  • $19.7 million to expand the immigrant integration program of USCIS; specifically, new grants under the Literacy Development for Immigrants Grant Program and the Citizenship Education Program Development Workshop Cooperative Agreement. This is an increase of $1.76 million from the previous year.
  • $694,000 for the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties “to initiate a study of ongoing interior immigration enforcement programs…to ensure that these programs are adequately safeguarding individual civil rights and civil liberties.”

President Obama understands that immigration enforcement alone will not fix the broken U.S. immigration system. As he has stated publically on numerous occasions, only comprehensive immigration reform will enable us to deal effectively with the problem of undocumented immigration. However, the President’s proposed budget is not as forward thinking as he is. With limited exceptions, it remains hostage to the insatiable appetite for enforcement measures that has fueled the growth of DHS for years.

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