Funding for border agents falls short
By Stephen Dinan
The Washington Times
February 7, 2006
WASHINGTON -- President Bush's new budget again fails to fund the entire number of Border Patrol agents mandated by Congress but for the first time includes funds for his proposed guest-worker program.
The budget calls for 1,500 new U.S. Border Patrol agents and 6,700 new detention beds for illegal aliens awaiting deportation -- far more than last year's budget, but still short of the 2,000 new agents and 8,000 new beds per year that he and Congress agreed to in the December 2004 intelligence-overhaul bill.
"It's a very strong budget, and the request clearly reflects the priority that is placed on securing our borders," said Department of Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke, who said it reflects a comprehensive strategy that includes personnel, beds, technology such as sensors and drone aircraft, and fences like the one being built near San Diego.
The budget includes money for 560 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention officers and agents, and 257 immigration lawyers as part of the administration's effort to return home more non-Mexican illegal aliens. The administration hopes that this will help end the "catch-and-release" policy, under which most non-Mexicans who are caught never are deported.
The 1,500 Border Patrol agents bring the total authorized to 13,819 -- a 42 percent increase since September 11, 2001, but still at least 1,000 short of the number for which the December 2004 bill called.
Those who want stricter immigration controls said Mr. Bush has shown that he recognizes the need for more enforcement but must meet the promises of the 2004 bill.
"He couldn't have just gone an extra 1,300?" asked Rosemary Jenks, government relations director for NumbersUSA, about the shortfall on detention beds. "The idea they're going to stop the catch-and-release policy without adequately funding those detention beds is just ludicrous."
She also said Mr. Bush's "one-track focus on the temporary-worker program is detrimental" to the other border- and immigration-security efforts, but was pleased that the administration included money to begin funding a proposed employer-verification system that passed the House last month.
The provision, which would require employers to check workers' Social Security numbers, has not passed the Senate. Another immigration-related provision, from the 2005 Real I.D. Act, requires states to make immigration status checks before their driver's licenses or identification cards become valid for federal purposes.
The budget proposes $134.9 million and 365 staff positions for those provisions.
It also includes $247 million in anticipation that Congress will pass a guest-worker program.
"We're talking about initial steps that the department can take and efforts that agencies like Citizenship and Immigration Services can begin to implement," Mr. Knocke said.
Mr. Bush took a number of hits from Democrats last year, and Republicans said they were embarrassed, when the president's budget called for just 210 new Border Patrol agents.
One of those Democrats who led the charge for more funding, Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, said yesterday that he was pleased that Mr. Bush finally was proposing substantial investments in immigration enforcement.
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said the increases were appropriate.
"Those enhancements would move us closer to a 'virtual fence' that could control our southern border. In addition, the proposed funding for detention beds is critical, because as the ability to apprehend illegal immigrants increases, so does the need for detention space," Mr. Cornyn said.
He said the employer-verification program was particularly important.
"The days of fake documents and employers' looking the other way must be part of the past. Nearly five years after 9/11, the fact that millions of illegal workers are still able to use fake documents is very troubling to me," he said.
The budget also makes good on a promise that the administration made to Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Last year, when he wrote the bill mandating employer verification of Social Security numbers, he made sure that the White House would agree to fund it in this budget, even though it has only passed the House.