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Obama, DHS 2010 Budgets Hint at Immigration Priorities

by Jesse Goldstein

The White House and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently released their proposed budgets for fiscal year (FY) 2010. Both budgets contain discussions of immigration-related priorities, offering a glimpse of what the new administration may choose to pursue this year. Even though he is obviously facing several domestic economic challenges, President Barack Obama has signaled that he still supports comprehensive immigration reform and may soon decide to pursue that goal.

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Secretary Napolitano’s budget plans
DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano recently unveiled her department’s $55.1 billion budget for FY 2010, which focuses on five major priorities: counterterrorism, border security, enforcement of immigration laws, disaster preparedness, and department unification and modernization. Addressing immigration, the proposed budget contains $122 million to strengthen employment eligibility verification systems and $139 million to expedite the application process for new legal immigrants. The budget also allows for 80 new U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement secure communities personnel to target and crack down on criminal aliens and allocates $144.9 million to support the implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

President Obama’s proposed FY 2010 budget
President Obama’s proposed budget for FY 2010 contains several immigration-related priorities along with significant funds to combat the illegal traffic of criminals, weapons, and drugs and to strengthen border security. The budget allocates $10 million to establish a new Immigrant Integration Program, which will provide grants to community-based organizations for citizenship preparation programs and facilitate English language learning through improved Web resources. The budget provides $75 million for English literacy and civics education programs as well as $730 million in English Language Acquisition State Grants designed to improve the education of immigrant children and young people who have limited English skills. More than $850 million is proposed for U.S. Department of State and Department of Health and Human Services programs to help new refugees settle and integrate into American life.

On the subject of immigration fee reform, the budget proposes $206 million to end the practice of paying for refugee, asylee, and military naturalization applications through increased surcharges on other immigration benefits (although whether that could ever result in a fee decrease is doubtful). The President has proposed $139 million to develop a more efficient and secure system for delivering immigration benefits and services. His budget also requests $112 million for E- Verify, a program designed to support employers’ efforts to curb the employment of illegal immigrants. This funding will support the development of a monitoring and compliance office to oversee use of the system, improve training and outreach, and enhance data accuracy and integrity.

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Potential immigration legislation
Napolitano has also recently reiterated her support for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which she backed as the governor of Arizona. The DREAM Act would provide the opportunity to earn conditional permanent residency to certain immigrant students who graduate from U.S. high schools, are of good moral character, arrived in the United States as children, and have been in the country continuously for at least five years before the law’s enactment. Under the proposal, qualified students are granted a six-year period to attend college and earn at least a two-year degree or serve in the military for two years in order to earn citizenship. The bill is intended to address the issue of illegal immigrants who arrived in the country as young children and have behaved properly and wish to remain as legal residents.

Bottom line
The proposed budgets from the White House and the DHS signal the administration’s intent to tackle immigration-related issues on a number of fronts. It isn’t yet clear how the President’s initiatives will affect U.S. companies that employ foreign workers.

Jesse is an attorney and shareholder with Vercruysse, Murray & Calzone, P.C., in Detroit. He may be reached at (248) 540-7270.