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Immigration in Trump’s FY2018 Budget

By Lazaro Zamora

Thursday, May 25, 2017

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On Tuesday, the Trump administration released its fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget. Although the president’s budget is almost never wholly enacted by Congress as written by the White House, it is a chance for presidents to highlight policy priorities. The FY2018 budget proposes billions in funding increases for border and immigration enforcement, including funds to construct new miles of wall and expand detention and deportations, while slashing funds directed at resettling refugees (See Table). The president’s budget also proposes immigration policy reforms, legislative language to crack down on sanctuary cities, and restrictions on access to tax credits by unauthorized immigrants. Notably, and unlike Obama-era budget proposals, the potential budgetary effects of the proposed immigration reform policies are not included in the long-term projections of fiscal impacts.

Immigration Reform Policy Proposals

  • Immigration Reform. Among the president’s proposed policies for jobs and growth, the budget discusses three broad immigration reform proposals that the administration says would save taxpayer resources, including encouraging “merit-based admissions for legal immigrants, ending the entry of illegal immigrants, and a substantial reduction in refugees slotted for domestic resettlement.” Most of the section on immigration reform focuses on the use of welfare or low-income assistance programs by immigrant-headed households as justification for the three policy reforms. Notably, however—and unlike the other proposed policies in the budget—none of these immigration reform proposals are included in the administration’s long-term projections on the fiscal impacts of the budget. In the past, President Obama’s budgets proposed immigration reform that expanded legal immigration with more modest enforcement and assumed results of up to $1 trillion in deficit reduction over two decades.
  • Limiting Access to Tax Credits. The budget does project up to $40 billion in deficit reduction by restricting unauthorized immigrants’ access to certain tax credits. The budget proposes requiring Social Security numbers to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit on annual IRS tax returns. Under current law, the Earned Income Tax Credit already requires Social Security numbers, but the Child Tax Credit places the burden of proving citizenship or residency fully on the child, and allows parents of qualifying children (often unauthorized parents with U.S. citizen children) to claim the credit using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. The proposed language would shift focus to the parent’s status and would require a Social Security number.
  • Sanctuary Cities. The budget appendix also includes proposals to substantially rewrite a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that dictates what kind of cooperation states and localities must have with federal authorities on immigration enforcement. Current law does not require that states and localities honor immigration detainers, it only bars jurisdictions from actively prohibiting the exchange of information between state, local or federal agencies regarding an individual’s immigration status. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced that the Department of Justice  will use compliance with this statute as a precondition to award federal grants. The changes proposed in the budget’s appendix seek to codify language that explicitly gives the Department of Homeland Security and DOJ this power and expands the scope of the statute, barring jurisdictions from prohibiting the collection or exchange of information on the “nationality, citizenship, immigration status, removability, scheduled release date and time, home address, work address, or contact information” of an arrested individual. It also would also add language that would prohibit states and localities from ignoring detainers.

Below is a summary of the specific budget requests for funding of major immigration and border-related functions:

Table 1. Funding levels for key immigration agencies, FY 2016-FY 2018 (billions of dollars).

AgencyDept.2016 actual2017 actual2018 proposed
U.S. Customs and Border ProtectionDHS13.313.4716.4
U.S. Immigration and Customs EnforcementDHS6.186.147.94
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration ServicesDHS3.83.64.4
Executive Office of Immigration ReviewJustice0.420.420.5
Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (Migration and Refugee Assistance)State3.13.12.7
Administration for Children and Families (Refugee Programs)HHS1.672.121.46

Border Security

  • New Border Wall. The president’s budget requests $2.6 billion for border security and infrastructure. Nearly $1.6 billion of this would go to building new and replacement border wall: 32 miles of new border wall, 28 miles of new levee wall in the Rio Grande Valley sector, and 14 miles of replacement border wall in the San Diego sector. Included in the $1.6 billion is $58.5 million in additional funding to plan future construction, to support wall-related hiring, and for border wall information technology.
  • Technology and Tactical Infrastructure. The budget allocates over $111 million for other border tactical infrastructure, including $49.7 million to construct 15 miles of new roads and $61.7 million to fund planning and other construction and installation of various tactical infrastructure components. Another $197 million is allocated toward border surveillance technology and $667 million to support other assets, facilities, and equipment.
  • Border Agents. The president’s budget includes $147 million in funding to hire an additional 500 Border Patrol agents (there are currently 19,828 agents) and to improve Customs and Border Protection’s hiring and retention practices.
  • Entry-Exit. The budget asks for $354 million to support biometric initiatives at CBP, including $90.6 million for the expedited completion of a biometric entry-exit system.

Interior Enforcement

  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement Hiring. The president’s budget includes $185.9 million to hire almost 2,000 new personnel, including an additional 850 immigration officers, 150 criminal investigators, 805 enforcement support staff, and 125 ICE attorneys to represent the government in removal proceedings.
  • Department of Justice Hiring. The FY2018 budget proposes $7.2 million to fund 70 additional immigration enforcement prosecutors, supporting the Attorney General’s dictate to U.S. attorneys to increase criminal prosecutions of immigration violators (deportation is a civil proceeding). It proposes $8.8 million to fund an additional 40 deputy U.S. Marshals for apprehending, transporting, and prosecuting unauthorized immigrants. It also requests $1.9 million to fund 20 additional DOJ attorneys to help with expected litigation related to building the wall and 20 attorneys for other immigration litigation assistance.
  • Immigration Courts (part of DOJ). The FY2018 budget proposes an additional $75 million to hire 75 new immigration judge teams (each team includes a judge and six staffers), bringing the total number of judge teams to 449. The new resources would aim to speed up case processing in immigration courts, where the backlog has surpassed 542,000 cases, with an average wait time of 677 days. During its last years, the Obama administration sought to hire an additional 55 immigration judge teams, which was seen by many advocates as insufficient to keep up with the burgeoning backlog. Keeping pace has been difficult due to the large number of judges eligible for retirement.
  • Detention Beds. The president’s budget requests $1.5 billion to significantly expand detention capacity at the border and in the interior to 51,379 detention beds. Under the current “detention bed mandate,” the government is required to fill a minimum of 34,000 beds in immigrant detention centers per night. While the Obama administration signaled its desire to discontinue the mandate, Congress has continued it. The budget also proposes $177 million for the Alternatives to Detention Program and $485 million for transportation costs.
  • E-Verify. E-Verify is a federal internet-based program that uses a variety of government databases to electronically confirm whether an employee is eligible to work legally in country. The FY2018 budget requests $131.5 million to support the E-Verify program, an increase of $15.2 million. The funding would support expansion to mandatory use of E-Verify nationwide within three years, although making the system mandatory would require a legislative change. Although current law requires all employers to verify employment eligibility to prevent the hiring of unauthorized immigrants, participation in E-Verify is voluntary for most employers. Mandatory E-Verify has been part of most major immigration reform proposals over the last decade and a half, but is strongly opposed by many employers and immigration reform groups unless accompanied by changes to the work visa system and/or legalization for the current workforce.
  • State Criminal Alien Assistance Program. The budget request would eliminate SCAAP funding (around $210 million), which reimburses local and state governments for a portion of the cost of incarcerating unauthorized immigrants. SCAAP funding has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress. Previous proposals from presidents from both parties to revise or reduce SCAAP funding have not been successful.

Refugee Program

  • Refugee Funding. Reflecting the president’s tougher stance toward the refugee admissions program, the budget cuts the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration budget from $3.1 billion to $2.7 billion. Among other savings, the budget eliminates funding for the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance account ($50 million), which sets aside funds for emergency refugee needs or unanticipated humanitarian crises. The Department of Health and Human Services budget also contains significant cuts to programs that support refugees, including transitional and medical services, unaccompanied immigrant children and refugee support services, from $2.1 billion in FY2017 to $1.5 billion in FY2018.