Trump Begins Funding His Immigration Crackdown

The White House blueprint increases funding for the Department of Homeland Security, while taking an incremental approach.

Gregory Bull / AP

President Trump moved towards his promised crackdown on immigration upon taking office, signing executive orders that called for the hiring of more enforcement agents and the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, but his proposed budget, released Thursday, signals an incremental approach.

The Department of Homeland Security’s budget would grow by $2.8 billion, or roughly 7 percent, as laid out in the White House blueprint. Of that, $314 million is allotted to hire and train 500 new Border Patrol Agents and 1,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents.

“These new personnel would improve the integrity of the immigration system by adding capacity to interdict those aliens attempting to cross the border illegally, as well as to identify and remove those already in the United States who entered illegally,” the blueprint reads.

The figures provide a sense of how the president intends to execute his previous call for an uptick in Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents and Border Patrol Agents. Last month, the DHS released memos requesting the hiring of 10,000 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents and 5,000 more Customs and Border Protection Agents. Hiring, however, is a complicated and long process—that’s particularly true for immigration-enforcement agents.

Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, told me last month that doing so in a short time span would be difficult. “I don’t think the money issue really is going to be a problem. As far as the personnel goes, the real problem is going to be maintaining standards in hiring and training and not succumbing to political pressure to hire people quicker,” he said. The blueprint seems to acknowledge that.

The so-called “skinny budget” also supports speedier deportations by pouring more funds into “detention, transportation, and removal of illegal immigrants,” and sets aside $2.6 billion for border security, including the construction of a wall. But the White House figure falls well short of estimates for constructing a wall that would completely block off the southern border. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney acknowledged the uncertainty in how much this funding would accomplish in a briefing with reporters on Wednesday, though he noted this is the first step in the process.

“The next question is going to be: How many miles of wall does that build, right? We don’t know the answer to that question because we haven’t settled on construction types, we haven’t settled on where we’re going to start,” he said.

The emphasis on immigration enforcement results in $667 million worth of cuts elsewhere in the department, including disaster mitigation grants and counterterrorism funding. The blueprint “eliminates and reduces unauthorized and underperforming programs administered by TSA in order to strengthen screening at airport security checkpoints, a savings of $80 million from the 2017 annualized CR level.” It goes on to outline raises to the TSA Passenger Security Fee, reductions to the Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response program, and the elimination of TSA grants to state and local police.

The uptick in funding for DHS is offset by cuts across federal agencies. As my colleague Russell Berman notes, the president still needs to get the blueprint through Congress. For now, however, the blueprint reaffirms the president’s pledge to ramp up immigration enforcement—though perhaps not yet at the scale promised earlier this year.