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Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of a Formidable Machinery

The U.S. government spends more on federal immigration enforcement than on all other principal federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined, with the nearly $18 billion spent in fiscal 2012 approximately 24 percent higher than collective spending for the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a new Migration Policy Institute report finds.

The nation’s main immigration enforcement agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), refer more cases for federal prosecution than all Justice Department law enforcement agencies.

And a larger number of individuals are detained each year in the immigration detention system (just under 430,000 in fiscal 2011) than are serving sentences in federal Bureau of Prisons facilities for all other federal crimes.

The report traces the evolution of the system, particularly in the post-9/11 era, in terms of budgets, personnel, enforcement actions and technology. It examines individual programs and results, ranging from Secure Communities and 287(g) to deportations, detention, post-9/11 visa screening and new federal databases, explaining how they have intersected—in some ways by deliberate design, in others by happenstance—to create a complex, interconnected, cross-agency system.

Among the report’s other key findings:

  • More than 4 million non-citizens, primarily unauthorized immigrants, have been deported from the United States since 1990, with removals rising from 30,039 in FY 1990 to 391,953 in FY 2011.

  • Fewer than half of the non-citizens deported from the United States are removed pursuant to a formal hearing before an immigration judge, with the majority removed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) via its administrative authority.

  • The nearly 430,000 non-citizens detained in the immigration detention system in FY 2011 exceeded the number serving sentences in federal Bureau of Prisons facilities for all other federal crimes.

  • Immigration enforcement spending has totaled nearly $187 billion in the 26 years since IRCA ($219 billion in 2012 dollars).

  • Spending on CBP, ICE and DHS’s primary immigration enforcement technology initiative, the US Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program, reached $17.9 billion in FY 2012. In comparison, total spending for all other federal criminal law enforcement agencies (the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) stood at $14.4 billion in FY 2012.

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