The “Gang of Eight” has released a 17 page summary of the immigration bill that they plan to introduce into the U.S. Senate later this week. We will summarize each of the areas covered by the bill over the next few days on this blog. As you might have guessed, the first issue covered by the proposed law is increased border security.
The legislation calls for “persistent surveillance” in High Risk Sectors on the Southern Border (30,000 individuals per year). The Senators want an “effectiveness rate” of 90% – which is calculated by dividing the total number of apprehensions and turn backs by the total number of illegal entries.
The DHS Secretary has 180 days to develop a “Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy.” The bill appropriates $3 billion to implement the strategy through “surveillance and detection” capabilities developed by the Defense Department; fixed, mobile and agent portable surveillance systems; increased border patrol agents and customs officers on the Southern Border; and, unmanned aerial systems and fixed wing aircraft.
In addition, DHS must develop a Southern Border Fencing Strategy with $1.5 billion allocated to implement this strategy through increased fencing and technology.
Included in the legislation is a new immigration category – “Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI)” which apparently is the temporary status in which undocumented aliens would first be placed. The law would prevent any such undocumented alien to adjust status to RPI unless the Southern Border Security and Fencing Strategies are completed.
Then, except for immigrants who are eligible for the DREAM Act and the Agricultural legalization, no aliens in RPI status will be eligible to adjust to LPR status unless DHS first certifies that the Security and Fencing strategies have been substantially deployed and have become operational. DHS will also have to certify that a mandatory E-verify system has been implemented and that DHS has adopted an electronic exit system for people leaving the US.
The bill also calls for a Border Commission that would help recommend additional improvements to border security. The Commissioin will be charged with issuing a “report and recommendation” for how to achieve a 90% border effectiveness in all high risk border secotrs.
The Senate bill would provide funding for an additional 3,500 customs agents, would authorize National Guard members to work on border patrol and fence construction efforts and would increase funding for crossing prosecutions in the Tuscon sector. More funding for “Operation Stonegarde” which seeks to prevent illegal activity along the border is included, as is more funding for additional patrol stations and “forward operating bases” to catch people entering the U.S. unlawfully.
Under the bill, DHS officers would have greater access to patrol federal lands. More funding for radio communications between CBP officers and local law enforcement is included, as is more money for state and local governments and for additional DOD border radar equipment. Some additional oversight is also apparently included.
Anyone who follows the immigration issue carefully knows that the US already spends more on border patrol and immigration enforcement than on many other federal law enforcement agencies combined. While I certainly have no general objection to increased border security, I think it is striking how militaristic the language used in the proposal is. More drones, more agents, more fences. I suppose these efforts are necessary but $3.5 billion sounds like a lot of money to me.
I was also struck at how this portion of the bill makes no mention of increasing funding for the immigration courts outside of Tuscon. The fact is that there is a huge backlog at our nation’s immigration courts. I was at the EOIR in Memphis this morning and received a merits hearing of February 13, 2015. That’s ridiculous. The immigration court in Kansas City has no funding to hire replacements for federal employees who left that court. This is no way to run an efficient deportation system. Don’t get me wrong – my clients sometimes benefit from these long delays, but if Congress is really serious about streamling the deportation process, it seems to me that they should spend less money on DOD radars and drones and more on prosecutors, court staff and judges.
Tomorrow – Legalization and Legal Immigration