New York Times
By Nicholas Fandos
March 16, 2017
WASHINGTON — To secure the southern border — his top campaign promise — President Trump next year is seeking to hire 100 new government lawyers, add 1,500 law enforcement officials and spend more than $1 billion on detention and deportation, according to the White House budget plan released on Thursday.
The proposal, which includes a $2 billion down payment on Mr. Trump’s signature border wall, is one of the single largest investments in the president’s budget plan. Yet experts say it appears only to scratch the surface of what Mr. Trump has pledged, and highlights the difficulty of translating campaign promises into a workable, governing reality.
“It’s easy to promise things until you have to pay for them,” said Theresa Cardinal Brown, the director of immigration policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center and a former senior official at the Department of Homeland Security. “It is certainly an attempt to begin to carry out what he promised.”
Mr. Trump is proposing to pay for his border security plan by marshaling savings from across the federal government. To what extent it is ultimately funded will depend in large part on Congress, which makes spending decisions based on the president’s proposals.
Democrats have pledged to fight tooth and nail against the wall and stepped-up immigration enforcement. That means that funding is likely to come down to how much political capital the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill is willing to spend on a project they have tried to downplay, despite Mr. Trump’s urgings.
The changes will not come cheaply.
If funded, Mr. Trump’s plan would spend billions of dollars on the design and construction of the wall. It would also prompt a hiring spree in the Justice and Homeland Security Departments to step up enforcement and the deportation of people who are in the United States illegally. Programs and agencies of all sizes from across the federal government would face cuts to pay for the plan.
The largest single chunk of money is reserved for the border wall itself, one of Mr. Trump’s signature campaign promises that has deeply polarized American voters. The proposal calls for $2.6 billion to be spent on “tactical infrastructure” and other security technology at the border, including money to plan, design and begin building the wall.
Another $314 million would go toward hiring and training 500 new Border Patrol agents and 1,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel next year. An additional $1.5 billion would pay to build new detention facilities for illegal immigrants and to fund their removal from the country.
The budget also dedicates money for enacting a mandatory nationwide E-Verify program for businesses to determine the eligibility of applicants to work in the country.
Though Mr. Trump has proposed an overall increase of $2.8 billion, or 6.8 percent, to the Homeland Security budget, agencies within the department would face cuts — including $667 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s state and local grant programs, and $80 million from the T.S.A.
The New York Times reported last week that Mr. Trump was also pursuing steep reductions to the Coast Guard’s budget, a move that would most likely receive significant pushback in Congress. The budget released on Thursday made no mention of the agency, however.
Mr. Trump also is seeking to cut $1 billion from the Justice Department, even as he bolsters its immigration courts by $80 million. That would pay for the hiring of 75 new teams of judges to speed removal proceedings for people in the country illegally.
Though it does not offer a price tag, the budget also calls for an additional 60 border enforcement prosecutors and 40 United States Marshals to help apprehend and convict those in the country illegally who commit crimes.
Beyond the funds for detentions in the proposed Homeland Security budget, Mr. Trump is calling for the Justice Department to spend $171 million for short-term holding facilities for federal detainees, including those who are here illegally.
And foreshadowing what could be years of bitter legal fights with landowners from Texas to California, Mr. Trump wants to hire 20 lawyers to obtain land in the Southwest on which to build the wall or other security facilities.
Despite its size and scope, the proposal leaves unanswered how Mr. Trump would reach several of his most prominently stated goals, including the wall’s prompt construction and the quick hiring of 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents and 10,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.
Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has said he expects the wall to cost between $12 billion and $15 billion. Other estimates put it significantly higher, meaning that the White House would need to find billions of dollars more to make good on the pledge. And with Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly promising to complete the project in two years, it will need to do so quickly.
It was similarly unclear how the administration intends to meet or pay for Mr. Trump’s hiring goals for I.C.E. and the Border Patrol. R. Gil Kerlikowske, who served as former President Barack Obama’s commissioner of the United States Customs and Border Protection agency, said that when he left the agency in January, it was struggling to fill already budgeted positions, much less drastically expand the work force and infrastructure supporting it.
That issue and others, Mr. Kerlikowske said, would most likely raise red flags for congressional appropriators who may not agree with the president’s priorities — or find them appropriately funded in his proposal.
“What the campaign promises were versus what you actually see in the budget are a pretty big stretch,” he said.
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