The Huffington Post
January 7, 2013
by Elise Foley
WASHINGTON -- The United States spends more money on immigration
enforcement -- nearly $18 billion in the 2012 fiscal year -- than on its
other law enforcement agencies combined, according to a report released Monday from the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.
That spending went to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Patrol and US-Visit, a program that helps states and localities identify undocumented immigrants.
By contrast, the U.S. spent $14.4 billion -- combined -- on its other
prime law enforcement agencies: the FBI, Secret Service, Drug
Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshal Service and Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
There's a reason for the high cost. The Migration Policy Institute
found that ICE and CBP also refer more cases to prosecution than those
other agencies combined, and the immigration agencies also held more
individuals in fiscal year 2011 than the federal Bureau of Prisons.
Still, the numbers are striking. Immigration enforcement has expanded
rapidly since 1986, when Congress passed the enforcement-heavy
Immigration Reform and Control Act. Since then, the U.S. has spent
nearly $187 billion on immigration enforcement, according to the report.
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, which led to the creation of
the Department of Homeland Security that now houses immigration
enforcement, made the spending surge even more marked.
The government spends about 15 times more on immigration enforcement
than it did in the mid-1980s, adjusted for inflation, the report found.
At the same time, deportations have exploded. The U.S. deported about
30,000 people in the 1990 fiscal year; in the 2012 fiscal year, it removed a record
409,894. A majority of those people were deported without an order from
an immigration judge, instead using DHS' discretion, the Migration
Policy Institute found.
Immigration enforcement is more in focus than ever this year, as
Congress and the White House begin work on a bipartisan agreement for
reform of the system. The Obama administration, while deporting a record
number of people, has put in place some reforms to focus more on
high-priority immigrants, such as convicted criminals. It also
implemented the deferred action program to stop deporting some
undocumented young people. Those policies were met by some on the right with the claim
that the administration doesn't care to enforce immigration law, a
possible sticking point as the two sides seek to find an agreement.
The Migration Policy Institute found that border enforcement is, for
the most part, working. Doris Meissner, director of immigration policy
at the institute and a former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and
Naturalization Service, told reporters on a conference call that she is
somewhat baffled by the insistence that the U.S.-Mexico border is out of
control, sometimes brought forth by people who want to block reform.
"I really don't know," Meissner said when asked why so many people
say border enforcement is failing. "I do think a lot of it is just old,
the standard imagery of people coming across the border, of the
revolving door, of border patrol feeling besieged. Things just haven't
caught up -- it's a disconnect."