By MIRIAM JORDAN
The Obama administration spent more on immigration enforcement in the most recent fiscal year than on all other federal criminal law enforcement combined, as it invested ever-larger sums at the border and inside the U.S. to curb illegal immigration, according to a new report.
In the year that ended Sept. 30, the federal government spent $18 billion on immigration-enforcement programs, dwarfing the combined budgets of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Secret Service by about $3.6 billion, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.
“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 in a statement accompanying the report, which was released Monday.
Immigration-enforcement programs are mainly administered by Department of Homeland Security through two agencies, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.
A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said the department had no comment on the report.
According to the report, “Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of a Formidable Machinery,” the Obama administration has made immigration a top law-enforcement priority. Referrals for prosecution by federal immigration agencies outnumber referrals by the Justice Department and its agencies, the report says.
Since former President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986, legalizing nearly three million immigrants, the government has spent more than $187 billion on enforcement in this arena.
In fiscal 2012, a record 409,849 people were removed from the U.S., compared with 188,467 in 2000, according to the Homeland Security Department. But border apprehensions have plummeted to a 40-year low—340,252 in 2011, the latest figure available, down from more than 1.6 million in 2000.
Thus, the report suggests that continuing to build up enforcement is no longer warranted at a time of fiscal restraint and with illegal immigration down due to beefed up enforcement and the economic downturn. The report estimates that 40% to 50% of illegal immigrants currently in the U.S. entered legally on visas and then overstayed.
While drawing criticism for a surge in deportations since taking office, President Barack Obama has taken several steps to refocus enforcement. Immigration agents have been directed to prioritize the removal from the country of immigrants with criminal records or those who pose a security risk.
The Administration has unveiled a program that defers the deportation and offers work permits to immigrants who were brought to the country illegally when they were children and who meet certain criteria. Last week, the administration announced new measures that facilitate applying for green cards by some illegal immigrant spouses and children of U.S. citizens.
You can read the full report here
Miriam Jordan is columnist for the WSJ. write ot Miriam at firstname.lastname@example.org