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.