Groups Allege Proposed Budget Harms Trade, Immigrants

With the announcement of the Obama administration’s proposed 2013 budget, the White House and the Department of Homeland Security are expected to hear renewed criticism and concerns from immigrant-rights coalitions and border business interests.

The Texas Border Coalition, a group of elected officials and private-sector leaders that advocates for additional resources at the nation’s land ports, is among those claiming that the proposal excludes much-needed funding to improve port infrastructure and increased staffing, components it says are essential to maintaining robust trade on the border. Meanwhile, rights groups are balking at the proposed expansion of an immigration-enforcement policy they say is discriminatory

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano is scheduled to testify today before the U.S. House Appropriations and Homeland Security committees to discuss the proposed $39.5 billion budget for the agency. It represents a half-percent reduction from current funding levels.

A statement that the department issued on the eve of the hearings highlighted immigration enforcement and border security, boasting of the accomplishments realized in both categories. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are requesting about $12 billion and $5.6 billion, respectively.

“The FY 2013 budget continues the [Obama] administration’s unprecedented focus on border security, travel and trade by supporting 21,370 Border Patrol agents and 21,186 CBP officers at our ports of entry as well as the continued deployment of proven, effective surveillance technology along the highest trafficked areas of the Southwest Border,” DHS officials said in the prepared statement.

 

But the Texas Border Coalition said the budget excludes funding for infrastructure improvements and the increased staffing that the government’s investigative arm recommended for the agency.

A recent Government Accountability Office report stated at least $6 billion would be needed to rebuild “crumbling border crossing infrastructure,” but the budget fails to address the issue, the group said. It also fails to budget for the 6,000 additional CBP officers who the coalition estimates are needed to decrease wait times at bridges and assist current officers in narcotics and contraband interdiction.

“We didn’t expect President Obama to wave a fiscal wand and fully fund the border crossings overnight," Ramsey Cantu, the border coalition chairman and mayor of Eagle Pass, said in a prepared statement. “But we are extremely disappointed that the federal budget does not include additional resources for the southern border crossings, and that security at these facilities remains a low priority for this administration in the year to come.”

The criticism comes just weeks after the coalition issued its own report, which cites GAO and DHS data in saying there is a 28 percent chance that a human or narcotics smuggler will get caught at the nation’s legal ports of entry. That is compared with a 90 percent of being detected between the ports of entry, according to the coalition.

Despite the alleged limitations, DHS maintained that its recent efforts have resulted in more trade moving through the nation’s ports than in recent years. In 2011, CBP processed about $2.3 trillion in trade, which DHS said is a 14 percent increase from 2010 figures. It also processed more than 24.3 million containers and prevented $178 million in counterfeit goods from reaching U.S. customers.

The National Day Laborer Organizing Network, however, also lambasted the administration for its continued funding of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Secure Communities program. The interagency operation determines whether illegal immigrants arrested by local police are deportable under federal immigration laws after their fingerprints are matched to a federal database.

Critics of the program, which include several lawmakers, say the program is misleading and seeks to deport any illegal immigrant, not just the criminal aliens the agency has said are the priority for the program.

The current budget seeks to expand the program nationwide by the end of 2013, despite several calls from some law enforcement officials and lawmakers to end the measure, citing an erosion in several communities’ trust in law enforcement and the hardship it has caused some immigrant families.  The program is currently in use in 1,595 jurisdictions in 44 states, including its statewide implementation in Texas.

“The GOP candidates for president all support Arizona's policy to make life miserable for immigrants,” Pablo Alvarado, director of the day laborer organizing network, said in a prepared statement. “The repugnant GOP consensus position is allowing the president to commit the perfect political crime. President Obama has presided over unprecedented deportations, and his budget creates line items that ravage Latinos' civil rights and undermine public safety.”

But the department is steadfast in its belief that Secure Communities is crucial to national security. Last year, law enforcement identified through the program about 71,000 people charged with or convicted of what ICE calls Level 1 offenses, which include rape, kidnapping and murder. The agency also repatriated about 8,900 Mexican nationals via ICE Air operation flights — a program it said helps “break the alien smuggling cycle” and reduces loss of life.

 

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