Government Spent $18 Billion on Immigration Enforcement

Washington (AP) -

The Obama administration spent more money on immigration enforcement in the last fiscal year than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined, according to a report on the government’s enforcement efforts from a Washington think tank.

The report on Monday from the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan group focused on global immigration issues, said in the 2012 budget year that ended in September the government spent about $18 billion on immigration enforcement programs run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the US-Visit program, and Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol. Immigration enforcement topped the combined budgets of the FBI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Secret Service by about $3.6 billion dollars, the report’s authors said.

Since then-President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986 — which legalized more than three million illegal immigrants and overhauled immigration laws — the government has spent more than $187 billion on immigration enforcement. According to the report, “Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of a Formidable Machinery,” federal immigration-related criminal prosecutions also outnumber cases generated by the Justice Department.

The 182-page report concludes that the Obama administration has made immigration its highest law enforcement priority. Critics are likely to bristle over its findings, especially those who have accused the administration of being soft on immigration violators.

As spending has risen in recent years, the number of arrests at the border has steadily dropped. In 2011, agents made about 327,000 arrests at the southern border, the fewest in nearly 40 years. The Homeland Security Department also removed a record 396,906 immigrants that year. In 2012, nearly 410,000 people were removed from the United States.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has repeatedly touted those statistics as evidence that the border is now more secure than ever.

In the lead up to the election, Obama made several administrative changes to the immigration system, including launching a program to allow some young illegal immigrants to avoid deportation and work legally in the country for up to two years. His administration also refocused enforcement efforts to target criminal immigrants and those who posed a security threat.

Republican lawmakers have widely criticized the policy changes, routinely describing them as “backdoor amnesty.” Many of those same lawmakers have said the border needs to be secured before reform can be taken up.