By Josh Gerstein
May 23, 2017
President Donald Trump is proposing to trim the Justice Department’s overall budget in the coming year, but he wants to boost funding for a crackdown on illegal immigration.
The Trump administration is proposing a $27.7 billion for the Justice Department in fiscal 2018, down $1.1 billion, or about 4 percent, from the continuing resolution the previous year.
But the administration proposed nearly $145 million in additional funding for immigration enforcement, adding 75 immigration judges along with about 375 support personnel, 70 new assistant U.S. attorneys focused on immigration and border crime, 40 deputy marshals, and new funds for prison space to detain more illegal immigrants.
“With this budget we are also implementing the president’s promise to secure our borders and restore a lawful immigration system,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told reporters at a Justice Department briefing Tuesday. “While dramatic progress has been made at the border in recent months, much remains to be done, and it’s critical that we focus on increased enforcement of our criminal immigration laws and that we enforce all immigration laws efficiently.”
“We’ve asked all federal prosecutors to increase their focus on this area by making several immigration offenses a higher priority,” Rosenstein said.
Congress does not have to follow the president’s budget suggestions, but the document is considered a statement of the administration’s priorities. Trump is also proposing nearly $4 million in additional funding for 40 new civil litigation positions that would address immigration-related matters, such as lawsuits challenging Trump policies or involving land seizures required to build the wall Trump has promised to erect on the Mexican border.
The budget proposal sent to Congress also contains language targeting so-called sanctuary cities by requiring that localities comply with federal immigration detainer requests in order to receive Justice or Homeland Security Department funding.
However, the Justice Department’s top budget official said there is no funding for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We do not have border wall money in the Department of Justice budget,” said Assistant Attorney General for Administration Lee Lofthus.
Most of the cuts in the Justice Department budget involve grant programs or one-time funding, like money related to the presidential campaign or building projects.
One of the grant programs targeted for elimination compensates state and local governments for the cost of housing foreign nationals who wind up in prison.
For years, the Justice Department has recommended the end of the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, but Congress regularly adds the funds back. The budget that passed earlier this month put $210 million into that reimbursement program.
Asked why the Justice Department would propose cutting that account when Attorney General Jeff Sessions has repeatedly complained about the burdens of illegal immigration, a Justice official said the Trump team wants to end the program for the same reason the Obama administration did.
“The SCAAP program is an after-the-fact reimbursement program. It reimburses state and locals for what happens when we don’t strictly enforce the law, when we don’t have proactive enforcement programs,” said DOJ controller Jolene Lauria. “We only have a limited amount of resources. We want to enhance those that proactively prevent and prosecute those illegal aliens that cross the border. So for us, it’s not in contravention because we want to do it on the proactive side. “
New legislative language in the budget proposal targets sanctuary cities, amending an existing statute to force state and local jurisdictions to comply with “detainer” requests, which ask localities to hold suspected undocumented immigrants up to 48 hours beyond their release time.
The provision could encounter resistance from law enforcement and elected officials, some of whom have questioned the constitutionality of the requests.
The revised statute would also require local jails to share more information about people in custody, including whether the individual is removable from the U.S. and the person’s home address.
Under the reworked measure, the Homeland Security and Justice departments would be able to condition federal grants on compliance.
In January, Trump issued an executive order that included language billed as a crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities, threatening their federal funding.
Last month, a judge issued an injunction against part of that order, directing that it not be applied beyond the funding restrictions contained in a specific section of federal law focused on policies that interfere with local officials’ communications with the feds.
On Monday, the Justice Department asked the judge to dissolve that injunction, saying that it was unnecessary. But the budget proposal released Tuesday makes clear that the administration wants Congress to strengthen the requirements facing cities.
Ted Hesson contributed to this report.
Josh Gerstein is a senior reporter for POLITICO.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com