President Obama’s budget would rewrite the federal government’s interior immigration enforcement priorities, cutting funding for states that try to help enforce immigration laws and scaling back the number of immigrants the federal government will detain while they await deportation.
He sent the proposal to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, at a time when congressional lawmakers are trying to write a broad immigration bill to bolster border security and interior enforcement, and to screen millions of illegal immigrants who could gain legal status under the legislation.
All of that will cost money, but Mr. Obama’s budget cuts overall funding for the Homeland Security Department. It particularly trims interior enforcement initiatives, such as the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which has widespread support among members of Congress.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano defended her budget to Congress on Thursday. She told a House spending panel that she is doing the best she can within a tight budget framework but can’t guarantee that her agency can enforce all the laws it has been delegated to carry out.
“While I’d like to give you that assurance and will do everything we can in that regard, I can’t give you a 100 percent guarantee,” she said.
Ms. Napolitano’s budget boosts spending by $1.1 billion for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol and officers who watch the ports of entry. But it reduces by nearly $650 million, or 11 percent, funds for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which handles interior investigations and deportations.
Among those cuts, Mr. Obama calls for eliminating support for state and local governments whose police try to assist the federal government with immigration enforcement under what is called the 287(g) program.
The president said he wants to reduce the number of illegal immigrants ICE keeps in detention from 34,000 to 31,800.
Congress fought hard during the past decade to boost the number of detentions, arguing that those who were allowed back into the general population rarely returned to be deported.
The move to reduce detention was made as ICE tries to recover from its announcement earlier this year that it released thousands of immigrants it had been detaining in order to comply with the budget sequesters. The agency had to re-arrest a handful of those it released, saying they were too dangerous to have been let out.
Rep. John R. Carter, Texas Republican and chairman of the spending panel, said Thursday that he was “going to be very cautious” about accepting the proposal to cut detention beds.
But Ms. Napolitano said they believe they can keep all high-priority individuals detained with the lower number of beds, while making use of alternatives to track the other people in deportation proceedings.
“The 31,800 that we request, we believe, will house all mandatory detainees,” she said.
In other action, Mr. Obama called for cutting the 287(g) program that many states and localities have used to help crack down on illegal immigration within their borders. The program trains state and local officers so they can begin to process illegal immigrants they arrest, with the intent of turning them over to the federal government.
Mr. Obama has resisted those state efforts, arguing that only the federal government should determine who should be deported.
The president also proposed cutting money for states that hold immigrants in their prisons and jails under the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, striking all $240 million for which the program was budgeted last year.
The initiative covers about a fifth of the costs states incurred for holding illegal immigrants, but the Justice Department, which administers the money, said it wasn’t able to cover the full costs and might as well scrap the program.
“Since SCAAP has shown only limited effectiveness in addressing the problems surrounding illegal immigration and criminal aliens, the administration prefers to focus the limited funding available for criminal justice assistance programs that seek efficiencies or promote national strategy,” a Justice Department official said.
Instead, Mr. Obama’s budget calls for a boost in Secure Communities, a program that empowers the administration to check prisoners held by state and local governments and decide which of those the administration wants to try to deport.
States that rely on funding for the assistance program said Mr. Obama’s push to cut the money showed he wasn’t serious about immigration enforcement.
“The Obama administration continues to make clear they have no intention of adequately securing our border or enforcing our nation’s immigration laws, leaving the states to deal with the very real consequences of a porous border,” said Lucy Nashed, spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose state receives a sizable chunk of the money.
Mr. Obama’s cuts to the program are unlikely to be approved by Congress, where lawmakers from both parties defend the spending as the only fair way to compensate states for a federal problem.
Indeed, a spokeswoman for Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican involved in the negotiations over the immigration overhaul bill, said funding for the program is part of the deal they are working on.
“Border states like Arizona have suffered due to a lack of SCAAP funding, but the immigration reform bill reauthorizes SCAAP,” said Flake spokeswoman Genevieve Rozansky.