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  by  Jonathan Osborne

The House Homeland Security Committee hosted a hearing Wednesday afternoon called “An Examination of the President's FY 2013 Budget Request for the Department of Homeland Security” with DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano.

The Congressmen in attendance were Peter King (Committee Chairman) of New York, Lamar Smith of Texas, Dan Lungren of California, Mike Rogers of Alabama, Michael McCaul of Texas, Bennie Thompson (Committee Ranking Member), Loretta Sanchez of California, Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, Henry Cuellar of Texas, Yvette Clarke of New York, Laura Richardson of California, Danny Davis of Illinois, Chip Cravaack of Minnesota, Patrick Meeham of Pennsylvania, Scott Rigell of Virginia, Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, Blake Farenthold of Texas, Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, Hansen Clarke of Michigan, Joe Walsh of Illinois, Brian Higgins of New York, Candice Miller of Michigan, Tim Walberg of Michigan, Bob Turner of New York, Janice Hahn of California, and Kathy Hochul of New York.

Before this hearing convened, or the President’s budget was even finalized, there were rumors that the Administration would gut the 287(g) program, which allows certain police jurisdictions to detain and process illegal aliens like deputized ICE agents. This was not a surprise considering that Secretary Napolitano and President Obama have openly opposed the program. Furthermore, it wasn’t even unusual if you recall actions taken by the House Appropriations Committee in the 111th Congress when Chairman David Obey (D-WI) and Subcommittee Chairman David Price (D-N.C.) moved all 287(g) funding to the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), which simply identifies and expedites removal of illegal aliens already incarcerated.

While 287(g) helps remove illegal aliens from the general populace, SCAAP removes them from the prison population after their sentences have been fulfilled. There is a big difference between the two programs, yet too often Members of Congress refer to the programs synonymously.

Secretary Napolitano has made it clear in statements, actions, and at previous hearings that she will focus DHS resources on identifying and removing criminal aliens and security threats instead of those who simply assume American jobs and benefits (economic threats). She backed up these actions by moving all 287(g) funding to SCAAP and the Secure Communities Initiative for FY2013. Congress, on the other hand, has consistently disagreed with this strategy, regardless of which party was in control.

The Democrat-controlled 111th Congress restored 287(g) after funding was initially removed. In the divided 112th Congress, House Republicans have sustained 287(g) as well despite no clear budget and numerous omnibus spending bills and continuing resolutions thanks to the idle Senate.

In addition, the current House of Representatives has already made a clear policy position on 287(g), even while many Members turn their backs on E-Verify reauthorization (E-Verify expires in September). On June 2, 2011, the House overwhelmingly voted (313-to-107) against Jared Polis’s floor amendment to defund 287(g), including 81 Democrats.

Considering the recent history of the issue and a number of Congressional staffers who have expressed concerns to me about the future of 287(g), I expected some hard nose questions and Administrative accountability at this Homeland Security hearing. Instead, the entire hearing lasted merely two hours with Members of both parties throwing the Secretary softball type questions and expressing outright admiration on topics from FEMA to emergency preparedness and TSA screening.

There were really only three Members of the Committee (Rogers of Alabama, Rigell of Virginia, and Duncan of South Carolina) who expressed concern about the issue at all while some of our other immigration allies like Paul Broun of Georgia and Ben Quayle of Arizona were noticeably absent.

I understand that some Members could care less about this hearing since there is no way the President’s, or any budget for that matter, could pass both Congressional chambers, making the issue a stalemate and waste of time. As a result, this hearing was fairly short and inconsequential despite a Secretary testifying on behalf of a controversial President. 287(g) and border security in general needs an aggressive advocate and I was somewhat disappointed by this wasted opportunity.

After a series of floor votes delayed the hearing, Chairman Peter King opened under standard committee procedures with a welcome message and overview while Ranking Member Bennie Thompson of Mississippi followed with his opening remarks. The Secretary then presented her opening statement and among other things said,

Domestically, over the past several years, DHS has deployed unprecedented levels of personnel, technology, and resources to the Southwest Border. At the same time, the Department has made critical security improvements along the Northern Border while strengthening efforts to increase the security of the Nation’s maritime borders. DHS is also focused on smart and effective enforcement of U.S. immigration laws while streamlining and facilitating the legal immigration process.

-- DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano 

Later in the statement, she went into further detail by saying,

DHS is focused on smart and effective enforcement of U.S. immigration laws while streamlining and facilitating the legal immigration process. Supporting the establishment of clear enforcement priorities, recent policy directives, and additional training for the field, the Budget continues the Department’s efforts to prioritize the identification and removal of criminal aliens and repeat immigration law violators, recent border entrants, and immigration fugitives.

Nationwide implementation of Secure Communities and other enforcement initiatives, coupled with continued collaboration with DOJ to focus resources on the detained docket and priority cases on the non-detained docket, is expected to continue to increase the number of criminal aliens and other priority individuals who are identified and removed.

The Budget provides the resources needed to address this changing population, while continuing to support Alternatives to Detention, detention reform, and immigrant integration efforts. The Budget also focuses on monitoring and compliance, promoting adherence to worksite-related laws through criminal prosecutions of egregious employers, Form I-9 inspections, and expansion of E-Verify.

-- DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano

While neither the Chairman nor Ranking Member challenged the Secretary on border security during the initial question and answer period, Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama asked why 287(g) was halted. The Secretary responded by saying they moved funds to Secure Communities as the best way to identify illegal aliens. She even said the DHS is about to remove some 287(g) task forces this year because they cost too much and yield little results.

Rep. Rogers then asked about the federal lawsuit against the Alabama immigration law. He wanted to know why Alabama litigation was a problem while Georgia and Arizona retained full Secure Community funding. The Secretary explained that Georgia and Arizona had full funding prior to the legal challenge and that Alabama would still be funded at 75%.

While Rep. Loretta Sanchez and Rep. Henry Cuellar complained about long lines at the ports of entry and Rep. Mike McCaul touched on the Fast and Furious scandal, outright border security and immigration enforcement was not further discussed until later in the hearing when Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia again asked about 287(g) funding.

He said, “Can’t we agree that some 287(g) funding is effective?”

The Secretary agreed but insisted that Secure Communities was more effective and promised to deploy more ICE agents to Virginia.

Rep. Rigell then asked the Secretary to describe the savings made by cutting 287(g).

The Secretary claimed that training and overtime pay exceeded the cost the Department wanted to spend per individual on alien removal.

The Representative then complained that not one 287(g) agreement has been approved under this Administration and said that “we are turning away their help.”

The Secretary responded by claiming that the Department has the right number of federal agents and that they want to prioritize the removal of criminal aliens.

In other words, they legitimately want to remove criminals but want to amnesty everyone else should they win a second term.

Ranking Member Bennie Thompson of Mississippi then asked about perfecting the biometric entry/exit system, which helps identify those entering and leaving the country.

The Secretary said the entry portion was close while the exit (important for identifying visa overstays) was a very expensive process. The Secretary continued by saying, “We have biographical data that works just as well.”

The last questions of this hearing relevant to immigration and border security were asked by Jeff Duncan of South Carolina. He wanted to know why “operational control” was not defined, which is funny because he was the only one to ask this despite the numerous hearings on this topic last year. Furthermore, he wanted to know why ICE agents were being pulled from the field to work in the bureaucracy. Yes, more ICE agents, but less in the field where they are needed.

The Secretary responded by saying, “Our numbers at the border support themselves” and that our country hasn’t seen this few illegal aliens since the early-1970’s.

Representative Duncan followed this bold statement by asking if the economy had anything to do with the number.

The Secretary said, “undoubtedly, but our added personnel and equipment allows us to do a lot more” and that the budget request allows the Department enough funds to sustain the CBP.

In closing, this was just another sleepy little hearing; no tough exchanges, no gotcha questions, and little debate. It was more like the whole hearing was a formality rather than an assessment, which is a sad symptom of the current problems in our government. Our country has an illegal immigration problem, yet the Secretary of Homeland Security walks out unscathed. Hopefully, the tone will be different when the House Judiciary Committee gets a chance to access her budget.

JONATHAN OSBORNE is the Chief Legislative Analyst for NumbersUSA

Tags:  
Interior Enforcement
National Security
Illegal Immigration
287(g)
border control
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