The $1.1 trillion budget bill adopted by Congress last week contained funding for several important crImmigration tactics, including a minimum detention bed requirement and reimbursement for local law enforcement agencies that detain certain migrants convicted of crime. Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014, H.R. 3547. Overall, ICE was allotted $5,229,461,000 (roughly $5.2 billion) to keep the agency operating through September 30, 2014.
The bill instructs DHS to “prioritize the identification and removal of aliens convicted of a crime by the severity of that crime.” This sounds like a simple reiteration of ICE’s current priorities (though, admittedly, ICE has in large part failed to realize its stated priorities).
Perhaps the most controversial crImmigration provision in the bill is a requirement that ICE “shall maintain a level of not less than 34,000 detention beds.” To ensure that this happens, the bill’s next line allocates $2,785,096,000 (that is, just shy of $2.8 billion) to detention and removal operations, “including transportation of unaccompanied minor aliens.” This funding level largely continues the current expenditure on immigration detention. Furthermore, the bill’s explicit requirement of a minimum number of beds is a very clear indication that Congress continues to believe that dictating bed quotas rather than allowing ICE to determine how many people merit detention is in the nation’s best interest.
In a significant twist that represents a potential significant improvement of detention operations, the bill prohibits ICE from maintaining a detention services contract with any facility “if the two most recent overall performance evaluations received by the contracted facility are less than ‘adequate’.” ICE has never terminated a detention contract with a prison operator because of poor conditions. This provision could give ICE the cover it needs to do so.
The bill also requires ICE to spend not less than $5.4 million on the $287(g) program. This is an interesting requirement because the Obama Administration has announced its desire to shift away from § 287(g) programs in favor of the Secure Communities program. Importantly, ICE cannot fund any § 287(g) program that the department’s Inspector General has concluded is operating in violation of the agreement entered into between DHS and the local law enforcement agency. This is an important win for immigrants’ rights advocates who have long criticized § 287(g) programs as facilitating racial profiling and other unscrupulous law enforcement tactics and criticized ICE for turning its head to these activities.
In addition, ICE must devote at least $1.6 billion of its budget “to identify aliens convicted of a crime who may be deportable, and to remove them from the United States once they are judged deportable.”
The bill also devotes careful attention to the technology used along the border and the amount of immigration policing personnel stationed there. Over $351 million ($351,454,000) was allocated for maintenance of the border wall and other technologies along the border. To patrol the border, the bill requires the Border Patrol, a part of DHS’s Customs and Border Protection agency, to employ at least 21,370 agents or full-time equivalents. This too roughly represents maintenance of the status quo. In FY 2012, the Border Patrol reported employing 21,394 agents nationwide. There is, of course, nothing in the budget bill to keep the agency from hiring more than the minimum number Congress requires.
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice was given $180 million to fund the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP). This program reimburses state and county governments for imprisoning some noncitizens convicted of a crime. The SCAAP program is not intended to provide full reimbursement for such costs and excludes key migrant groups such as LPRs from the types of people whose detention costs state and local governments can seek reimbursement. As I noted here, even with the SCAAP program operating, the bulk of the cost of imprisoning migrants convicted of a crime is borne by the states. Indeed, the $180 million allocated to the SCAAP program this year is roughly equivalent to the $198 million allocated for all of fiscal year 2009 when the Government Accountability Office reported that incarceration costs for migrants in state and local prisons nationwide ran at about $1.149 billion.
The bill also funds other immigration programs, including providing approximately $113 million for the much criticized E-Verify program.