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Thursday, Mar 3, 2011, 8:10 am

Weekly Diaspora: The 2012 Budget and Our Unsecured Border

By Catherine Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

By Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

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President Obama is taking heat from all sides this week for his 2012 budget proposal, which proposes increased funding for immigration enforcement and border militarization. While immigrant rights advocates are predictably up in arms over the proposal, House Republicans are (somewhat uncharacteristically) demanding significant cuts to border security funding — on the grounds that the Obama administration’s efforts to secure the border have been ineffective and fiscally irresponsible.

Obama’s future immigration priorities remain counterproductive

As Walter Ewing reports at Alternet/Immigration Impact, the proposed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) budget reveals the Obama administration’s consistently conflicted priorities on immigration. While the budget makes good (albeit modestly) on the administration’s promise to fund humane detention alternatives and better oversight of enforcement programs, the overwhelming bulk of the funding supports expansion of controversial and ineffective enforcement programs. Ewing writes:

The enforcement-heavy focus of the President’s proposed DHS budget is readily apparent in the top-line numbers. The budget for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) would be $11.8 billion; up 3 percent from FY 2011. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would receive $5.8 billion, up 1 percent from the previous year. And U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) would get $2.9 billion, down 5 percent from FY 2011. As is so often case, immigration services get the short end of the stick.

The administration’s continued emphasis on border security is particularly troubling in light of three recently released reports which suggest that increased enforcement efforts have proven to be totally ineffective at securing the border.

Despite increased funding, border remains unsecured

According to a newly released report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), more than 93 percent of the American-Mexican border remains porous by DHS’s own standards. The American Independent’s Kyle Daly reports:

Of the 1,969 miles of the border stretching from California to Texas, just 873 miles are deemed secure, according to the standards of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Within those 873, only 129 miles were classified in the GAO report as “controlled,” meaning there are resources in place to either turn away or apprehend people attempting to cross into the United States illegally.

The finding flies in the face of DHS’s increasingly costly efforts to secure the border. Last August, the president signed into law a $600 million border security bill and, more recently, DHS raised funding for aerial border patrol drones to $32 million. The administration’s 2012 budget proposal is similarly gratuitous, including “nearly $300 million for border technology, $229 million for border personnel and more than 40,000 additional border patrol agents and officers,” according to Daly.

Costly border security fails to secure

Meanwhile, the National Immigration Forum and the Immigration Policy Center have each released policy briefs arguing that border enforcement has proven remarkably ineffective. As Nicolas Mendoza explains at Campus Progress, funding for border enforcement has increased exponentially in recent years with little apparent impact on either unauthorized immigration or crime rates at the border:

Border Patrol funding has been increasing dramatically since 2005, rising at an average of $300 million per year. […] This in spite of the fact that “crime rates were already down in the border region” before the National Guard was deployed, with border cities like El Paso, Texas and San Diego, Calif. boasting some of the lowest crime rates in the country. […] Meanwhile, the Immigration Policy Center’s report argues that “no specific policy decision to beef up border security in the last 20 to 30 years has significantly reduced the flow of illicit drugs and people into the United States.”

In fact, as one brief points out, the only thing that has managed to decrease unauthorized immigration is the economy; Inflows have decreased by 200,000 since the beginning of the recession, as employment (the chief pull factor for unauthorized migrants) has dried up.

House Republicans vote to cut border security funding

On the heels of mounting evidence that border enforcement is both costly and ineffective, House Republicans are retreating from their usual pro-enforcement stance on border security and demanding significant cuts to DHS’s 2012 budget.

Care2’s Robin Marty reports that House members would like to cut $272 million in funding for border surveillance systems and eliminate 870 Border Patrol agents — on the grounds that the Obama administration’s border security efforts have been ineffective at quelling unauthorized immigration. While that’s certainly true, Marty notes that the move may simply be an effort to obstruct Obama’s agenda — at whatever cost.

Unfortunately, if they succeed on the first count, they’ll likely succeed on the second. The GOP has long stated that it would not move forward on comprehensive immigration reform until the border is secured, and the administration has attempted to meet that demand by putting off reform in favor of increasing border enforcement funding and capacity. In return, House Republicans have thumbed their noses at Obama’s border security efforts, painting him as incompetent on immigration and security issues and, in doing so, making it quite clear they won’t help him move forward on comprehensive immigration reform.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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