The Omnibus Spending Bill Is A Big Letdown For Trump’s Immigration Agenda

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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Buried in the 2,232-page omnibus spending proposal are several provisions addressing much of President Donald Trump’s immigration agenda: the border wall, detention of illegal immigrants, guest worker visas, and the hiring of immigration agents.

None comes close to delivering on Trump’s immigration priorities, says Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). In a scathing statement released Thursday, Stein ripped into “Congressional leadership and the business lobby” for caving on border security and guest worker visas.

“The omnibus released last night leaves our nation’s security at risk and sets up a betrayal of the most vulnerable American workers who have seen their jobs and wages decimated by bad immigration policies,” he said.

Trump, who reportedly expressed misgivings about the spending bill, said in a tweet Thursday morning that the bill delivered $1.6 billion to “start wall on the southern border.” But the true number set aside for border barriers is actually $1.375 billion, and not a cent of that will go toward constructing a wall in the style of any of the prototypes currently being tested in California.

Instead, lawmakers are appropriating $445 million for 25 miles of levee fencing in the Rio Grande Valley, plus another $196 million for an undetermined length of pedestrian fencing there. The San Diego border sector will receive $251 million to replace 14 miles of existing secondary fencing, and another $445 million will go toward replacing more pedestrian fencing in unspecified locations along the southwest border.

The appropriation hardly represents a victory for Trump’s signature border security initiative, Stein argues.

“It contains a paltry $1.6 billion for repairs, drones, and pedestrian fencing — no wall construction,” he said. “Even worse, the measure explicitly restricts funding for any of President Trump’s border wall prototypes, only allowing spending for designs deployed before the prototypes were constructed.”

Immigration hawks were also disappointed that two of the Trump administration’s big enforcement priories — hiring additional immigration agents and increasing detention space for illegal immigrants — were shortchanged. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, didn’t mince words, calling the omnibus proposal a “catch-and-release immigration budget.”

That’s primarily because the bill, far from expanding the number of detention beds, could end up decreasing the number of illegal immigrants that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is able to detain.

Under the fiscal year 2017 budget, ICE was given enough detention funding to house an average of 39,324 illegal immigrants at any given time. However, the agency has been consistently exceeding that number thanks to a spike in immigration arrests in the interior of the country.

The 2018 proposal boosts the level slightly to a daily average of 40,520 illegal aliens in detention, but ICE will likely have to detain fewer people than it has been in order to “live within their means,” as lawmakers wrote in the bill. As a result, immigration authorities will continue to practice “catch-and-release” enforcement simply because they do not have enough space to detain those arrested.

Nor does the bill do much to grow the ranks of Trump’s much-vaunted “deportation force.” Trump wanted funding to hire 1,000 new ICE agents, but lawmakers appropriated money for just 100, reports Vox.

None of those additional positions are for enforcement and removal officers, who are typically responsible for locating and arresting immigration fugitives. Rather, the new hires will be criminal investigators and support personnel.

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Lastly, conservative immigration reformers were disappointed that lawmakers once again included a language giving the Department of Homeland Security authority to unilaterally raise the cap of seasonal guest worker visas. The provision — also included in last year’s budget — provision allows the homeland security secretary to increase the total number of H-2B visas by “the highest number” of returning guest workers who were exempt from the annual cap in any previous fiscal year.

In plain terms, the DHS secretary could approximately double the number of H-2B visas issued in 2018, from 66,000 to roughly 120,000.

Immigration restrictionist groups like FAIR and NumbersUSA, which have seen many of their ideas championed by the president, argue the H-2B program displaces native-born workers and drives down wages for young and low-skilled employees. As much as they have cheered the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration, they have pressured it rethink traditional Republican support for guest worker programs.

“Opening the door for a significant increase in guest workers is not only unwarranted, but harmful to the interests of American workers,” FAIR’s Stein said. “Moreover, this controversial provision has no place in a spending bill and should instead be debated openly along with other unsettled immigration matters after the government is funded.”

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