FY2012 Homeland Security Budget Debate

On February 14, Secretary Janet Napolitano released the fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget request for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which includes three of the major agencies – other than the State Department – that deal with border security and immigration issues: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Congressional response to the DHS $57 billion budget request has been mixed, at best, despite DHS efforts to trim spending by $800 million in the coming year, through a variety of proposed efficiency and austerity measures. (See Secretary Napolitano Announces Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Request, DHS Press Release, 14.Feb.2011.)

The DHS budget proposal calls for a variety of security enhancements aimed at preventing terrorist attacks; among the initiatives that would affect the traveling public:

  • $105.2 million to install and operate 275 advanced imaging technology (AIT) scanners at airport checkpoints, which would boost the total number nationally to 1,275 AIT scanners; a large chunk of this funding includes the cost of hiring 535 TSA officers to run the equipment. According to DHS, “[c]ontinuing to increase AIT deployments while ensuring privacy safeguards are in place is critical to address the current threat by safely screening passengers for metallic and non-metallic threats – including weapons, explosives and other objects concealed under layers of clothing.” (See Overview: DHS Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Request, 14.Feb.2011.)
  • $273 million for state-of-the-art explosive detection systems that are designed to screen checked baggage more efficiently, reducing the number of re-scans and physical bag searches
  • continued funding for the Federal Air Marshal Service, “to maintain the FAMS surge deployment levels for domestic and international flight coverage which began in response to the attempted terrorist attack on December 25, 2009”
  • $236.9 million to fund an expanded force of Behavior Detection Officers, who are tasked with identifying potential security threats at U.S. airports; this includes funds for 3,336 officers, including 350 new positions

The DHS budget proposal also includes a proposed $1.50 increase in the passenger security fee, charged for each boarding of a flight.

On the border security side, the DHS proposal would make permanent the 1,000 Border Patrol agent and 250 CBP officer positions created by the 2010 Emergency Border Security Supplemental Appropriation for the Southwest Border, and would add 300 new CBP officers, raising the total number of Border Patrol and CBP agents to more than 42,500, which – as the DHS summary notes – “reflects the largest deployment of law enforcement officers to the front line in the agency’s history.” DHS seeks another $242 million to deploy additional surveillance equipment in heavily-trafficked regions along the southwestern border.

On the immigration administration and enforcement side of the ledger, DHS is seeking an extra $157.7 million to expand ICE’s capacity to detain and deport criminal aliens, increasing detention beds to 33,400, with a goal of removing more than 200,000 criminal aliens in FY2012. DHS also calls for $184 million – a $64 million boost – to expand the Secure Communities program to 96 percent of all jurisdictions nationwide, to help identify and remove more criminal aliens. Other key initiatives include:

  • Worksite Enforcement – continued funding to promote “compliance with worksite-related laws through criminal prosecutions of egregious employers, Form I-9 inspections, civil fines, and debarment, as well as education and compliance tools.” [Neither the DHS press release nor their budget summary provides exact amounts.]
  • E-Verify – continued funding for “operations and enhancements, including funding for new monitoring, compliance, and outreach positions necessitated by program expansion [no amount provided by DHS]
  • Visa Security Program – continued funding to prevent terrorists and criminals from getting visas
  • USCIS Immigrant Integration – expansion of programs such as English language classes and citizenship education

Now comes the interesting part, when Congress tries to figure out how much of the DHS proposal to honor, at a time of extreme fiscal constraint. In the opening salvos of the Congressional budget battles that are sure to intensify in the coming weeks – with the threat of a possible government shutdown looming as an incentive to come to grips with federal spending and tax policy – the GOP-dominated House of Representatives has already voted to cut border security and immigration enforcement spending by $600 million in the coming year. (See House Republicans Trim Border Security Budget Despite Calls for More Resources, by Devin Dwyer, ABC News, 21.Feb.2011.)

The House GOP seems at pains to show that they mean business when it comes to cutting the federal budget – even if it means cutting the very immigration enforcement budget that is so near and dear to the hearts of their core supporters. One can’t help wondering how this will play, back in the home districts of the GOP lawmakers who voted for the cuts; if their pro-enforcement constituents are sufficiently angry about this, GOP members will be forced to take a harder line on immigration reform, if and when it ever gets beyond the on-again, off-again negotiations of Senators Schumer and Graham, who are (again) working to bridge the partisan gap on immigration reform. Time will tell.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.