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Immigration in the President’s 2016 Budget

By Matt Graham

Monday, February 9, 2015

Earlier this week, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released The President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2016. Compared with FY 2014—the last year in which a full-year budget was enacted for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—the proposal would increase funding for the five major immigration agencies by about $3 billion, or 12 percent (see Table 1 below). As was the case in fiscal year (FY) 2015, the proposal’s long-term projections include the projected fiscal impact of the Senate’s 2013 immigration bill based on the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis.

The budget contains several provisions that would impact immigration policy and enforcement:

Executive Action

  • Fees and hiring. Most sections of the FY 2016 budget include references to the president’s FY 2015 request. To account for “revenue from the Executive Action on Immigration Reform,” this year’s budget tables retroactively added money and employees to the line for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Immigration Examinations Fee Account. This implies that the difference between the original FY 2015 proposal and the modified figures represents the fee collections and hiring from President Obama’s November 2014 executive actions (including but not limited to the deferred action portions). The difference between the two documents comes out to about $530 million and exactly 2,150 employees. Because USCIS is almost entirely funded by processing fees, these changes are budget-neutral.

Unaccompanied Children

  • Domestic response. The budget allocates enough base funding to process the same number of unaccompanied children (UC) apprehended in FY 2014. To account for the possibility that more children will arrive, the budget makes up to $562 million in contingency funds available—$134.5 million for Customs and Border Protection (CBP), $27.6 million for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and $400 million for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which cares for children awaiting a court date or placement with a sponsor. The statutory language specifies formulas that would regulate the release of the funds.1 For budget calculations, the contingency funds were assigned probabilistic scores designed to account for the “low probability” the thresholds will be triggered. Additionally, the budget proposes $4.7 million to procure supplies for mothers and unaccompanied children in CBP custody.
  • International assistance. In addition to funding enforcement against arriving migrants, the proposal contains several programs designed “to address the root causes of migration” by advancing “security, prosperity and economic growth” in the region. Key State Department allocations explicitly linked to the strategy include $523 million for development assistance in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and the Central American region (up from $111 million in FY 2014);2 $205 million to International Narcotics and Law Enforcement efforts in Central America (up from $100 million in FY 2014) and $81.5 million to the Central America Regional Security Initiative (up from $61.5 million in FY 2014).

Border Security

  • New hiring and fee increases. As noted in Table 1 below, the budget proposal allocates roughly $13.6 billion to CBP. This represents an increase of nearly $1.1 billion (9 percent) over the actual funding level in FY 2014. The DHS Budget-in-Brief places the bulk of this budget increase in the salaries and expenses category. The Budget-in-Brief and full budget justification both note that some of this additional funding relates to the hiring of 2,000 additional CBP Officers that first began in FY 2014 and explain that, due to rising traffic at ports of entry, CBP’s workforce model has identified a need for 2,700 additional officers. The documentation notes that CBP will separately propose three fee increases that would cover the cost of hiring 2,300 CBP Officers.
  • Border technology. CBP’s proposed budget did not introduce any overarching changes to border security programs or strategy, but it did include several funding increases to support specific improvements. These included $44 million for tactical infrastructure on the Arizona-Mexico border; additional Air and Marine flight hours ($32.5 million) and new planes ($44.4 million); mobile surveillance equipment for the southwest border ($18.2 million) and additional crew members to work with Unmanned Aircraft Systems, also known as drones ($8.4 million). The proposed increase in flight hours stands in contrast to FY 2015, when reduced flight hours were pitched as a source of savings.

Interior Enforcement

  • Immigration courts. The budget proposal increases funding to the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) to nearly $482 million. This represents a 39 percent increase over FY 2015’s enacted budget3 and is more than 50 percent higher than FY 2014’s actual funding level. The additional funding would be used primarily to fund 55 new immigration judge teams (consisting of an immigration judge and several support staff) and to support legal representation for children. The new resources would aim to speed up case processing in immigration court, where the backlog of cases has grown rapidly since FY 2008 (from 186,000 to 430,000, or 15 percent per year). Some immigrants are already being issued court dates in November 2019.
  • Detention beds. Current law requires the government to fill 34,000 beds in immigrant detention centers per night. This provision, known as the detention bed mandate, has also been eliminated in previous Obama Administration budgets but was not repealed by Congress. The budget documentation describes the administration’s intent to fund about the same number of detention beds mandated under current law—a total of 34,040, of which 2,760 would be in family detention centers. However, the statutory language contained in OMB’s appendix—which is presented as entirely new, presumably because no DHS budget was passed for FY 2015—omits the mandate, signaling the Administration’s continued desire to repeal it. In monetary terms, detention beds were the largest increase compared with the president’s proposed FY 2015 ICE budget, which would have funded about 30,000 beds.
  • ICE hiring. To support additional investigative capacity, the budget would increase the number of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents and support personnel by 326. According to the documentation, 56 of these new employees would focus on human smuggling and trafficking, while the remainder would increase ICE’s general investigative capacity.4 The budget would also fund 311 new attorney positions, which are intended to deal with increased caseloads in immigration courts, to process a rising number of FOIA requests and to decrease detention times for immigrants.
  • Entry-exit system. The budget would increase funding to the Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM) to $284 million, which represents a 25 percent increase over FY 2014’s funding levels. OBIM, which manages biometric identity information for immigration enforcement and other DHS functions, was created as part of the FY 2013 US-VISIT reorganization. The DHS budget justification explains that the funding increase would enable OBIM to update and replace DHS’s existing biometric identity database, IDENT. Other key priorities for FY 2016 include beginning field testing for its Air Entry-Exit Reengineering initiative, which is testing biometric exit solutions for airports and reducing the time it takes ICE to process overstay leads using the ADIS database.
  • E-Verify. The budget requests $120 million to fund E-Verify, about $5 million less than the FY 2015 proposal and $6 million more than the actual budget for FY 2014. The increase from FY 2014 appears to reflect a request to create 31 additional permanent positions, likely related to growing use of the system over time. The DHS Budget-in-Brief summarizes key E-Verify priorities for FY 2016, including preparing the underlying data system for future expansion, securing partnerships with states to verify the authenticity of driver licenses and improving the system’s accuracy.

Other Noteworthy Provisions

  • Visa Security Program. Compared with FY 2014 funding, the budget proposal would cut about $1 million in funding for the Visa Security Program (VSP), which deploys ICE agents to consular offices to assist with fraud detection and preventing dangerous individuals from being issued visas. This is significantly different than the continuing resolution that extended DHS funding through the end of February, which increased annual funding from $31.8 million to $49.5 million.
  • Border Security Program. The State Department’s Border Security Program (BSP) supports the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ efforts to issue visas only to legitimate immigrants and visitors. The proposal would increase BSP’s budget to $3.56 billion, a 10 percent increase over the State Department’s estimate for the FY 2015 appropriation. The largest funding increases in the State Department’s budget summary relate to improving passport security and increased workloads due to heightened demand for visas.
  • U visas. As was the case for FY 2015, the FY 2016 budget proposal would increase the statutory cap on U-1 nonimmigrant visas for crime victims to 20,000. According to a December 11 email from USCIS, the current statutory cap of 10,000 visas has been reached in six straight fiscal years; for FY 2014, the maximum number of visas was approved within 10 weeks.
  • Immigration statistics. In October 2014, DHS Sec. Jeh Johnson indicated his intention to bolster the Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS) by hiring additional statisticians. The DHS budget justification notes its intention to fill 12 statistician positions at OIS that are currently vacant, suggesting that DHS has created new positions and is now working to hire new staff. A forthcoming BPC report, Measuring the Metrics: Grading the Government on Immigration Enforcement, will describe the need for DHS to publish a broader set of outcome measures and associated data on U.S. immigration enforcement.

Immigration 2915

* Includes $334 million in transfer funds to deal with the surge of Central American children and families.
† This figure is contained in the President’s FY 2015 budget; the reference figures for the FY 2015 proposal presented in the FY 2016 document includes $530 million in fees to be collected under President Obama’s November 2014 executive actions on immigration.


1 For CBP and ICE, funding is triggered based on how the number of children transferred to ORR custody compares with the number that had been transferred “through the comparable date in the previous fiscal year,” as determined by the DHS and Health and Human Services secretaries. For CBP, $116.9 million would be triggered if the number of children exceeds the number in the previous fiscal year; an additional $5.8 million if the number is 20 percent higher; $6.0 million if the number is 40 percent higher; and $5.8 million of the number is 60 percent higher. For ICE, $6.9 million would be triggered at each of the same four thresholds. For ORR, if at least 3 percent of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Refugee and Entrant Assistant budget is transferred to ORR, up to $400 million in funding may be triggered based on a “trigger percentage.” For every 25 percentage points that (a) the increase in cases exceeds (b) the increase in funding since the previous fiscal year plus 5 percent, $100 million in additional funding would be triggered, up to $400 million. For example, if the number of cases was 131 percent of the previous year’s level (i.e., a 30% increase), but funding was 100 percent of the previous year’s level, a funding increase would be triggered (131 – (100 + 5) = 26). See pages A486, A516, and A525 of the OMB Appendix.

2 The State Department’s budget justification reports a total of $541 million, which includes $18.2 million in assistance to Nicaragua (up from $8.4 million in FY 2014). See pages 77 and 166.

3 EOIR is part of the Justice Department. This means that unlike DHS agencies, it already has a full-year appropriation for FY 2015.

4 HSI investigates federal crimes related to financial crimes, money laundering and bulk cash smuggling; commercial fraud and intellectual property theft; cybercrimes; human rights violations; human smuggling and trafficking; immigration, document and benefit fraud; narcotics and weapons smuggling/trafficking; transnational gang activity; export enforcement; and international art and antiquity theft.

KEYWORDS: DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, DEPARTMENT OF STATE, EXECUTIVE ACTION, FY 2016 BUDGET, JEH JOHNSON, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET, PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION, VISAS