Trump Budget Takes Broad Aim at Undocumented Immigrants

Trump Budget Takes Broad Aim at Undocumented Immigrants


John Moore/Getty Images

John Moore/Getty Images

Originally published by The New York Times

President Trump’s first budget offers up dramatic policy shifts and hundreds of millions of dollars to clamp down on undocumented immigrants living in the United States, denying them tax credits, jobs and haven while funding a deportation force and flights home for those being removed.

The proposals, part of the $4.1 trillion blueprint the White House released Tuesday, offer the clearest indication yet of how Mr. Trump, who campaigned on a promise to build a southern border wall to keep immigrants from illegally entering the United States and hunt down and banish those who are already here, intends to carry out his crackdown. In a budget marked by steep cuts to social safety net programs, it is one of the few areas besides the military where the president proposes to increase funding.

“In these dangerous times, our increased attention to public safety and national security sends a clear message to the world — a message of American strength and resolve,” Mr. Trump said in the message accompanying the document. “It follows through on my promise to focus on keeping Americans safe, keeping terrorists out of our nation, and putting violent offenders behind bars.”

To carry out the changes, Mr. Trump has requested a $2.7 billion increase for border security and immigration enforcement, part of a nearly 7 percent increase for the Department of Homeland Security. But his targeting of immigrants reaches beyond spending freely to track and deport them.

The proposal also calls for new steps to bar undocumented immigrants from receiving tax credits, including adding a new requirement that those claiming the child tax credit provide a verifiable Social Security Number valid for employment, and tightening current rules that mandate that a Social Security number be furnished to claim the earned-income tax credit. Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, said the change — which has long been sought by Republican immigration hard-liners in Congress — was in keeping with the administration’s determination to spare taxpayers from supporting people undeserving of federal help.

Mr. Mulvaney said he could “in good conscience” ask taxpayers to contribute some of their money to “this family who deserves” the two credits. “But I can’t do it to give the earned-income tax credit, which is designed to help folks who work, to give it to somebody who is in the country and working illegally. That’s just not fair.”

Immigrant advocacy groups argue that the proposal, like the rest of Mr. Trump’s budget, is less a considered attempt to promote security and safety than an effort to use every means at the president’s disposal to sow fear and create chaos for undocumented immigrants and their communities.

“If your single goal is to make life as miserable as possible for those who are here without status, then it’s about as effective as you can get,” said Angela Maria Kelley, a former Obama White House immigration official who is the senior strategic adviser for immigration at the Open Society Foundations.

Of the tax credit changes, she said, “They’re ignoring the fact that these are also programs that benefit U.S. citizen children, and that this is much more likely to push people further underground than it is to push people out of the country.”

The budget also includes a subtle but potentially significant strike at so-called sanctuary cities, local governments that limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities. It proposes to force these communities to honor requests from immigration officers to detain undocumented immigrants in local jails, which many sanctuary cities refuse to do. Those that do not comply would be barred from receiving certain federal grants.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly vowed to starve sanctuary cities of federal funding, although a federal judge in San Francisco last month temporarily blocked an executive order that he signed in January that calls for doing so. Faced with the legal challenge, Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, has sought to play down the scope and impact of the changes that the president is seeking, and on Monday, the government asked the federal court in San Francisco to reconsider its ruling, arguing the funding threat was so narrow that it posed no constitutional issues.

The threat pertains to a federal law that requires local governments to allow their employees to share information about unauthorized immigrants with the federal authorities.

But in his budget — in a provision tucked away on Page 544 that went unmentioned at the White House this week — Mr. Trump proposed expanding that statute, adding language that would force local governments to comply with federal detention requests. The Justice Department and Homeland Security Department would issue grants only to cities that complied.

No current federal law requires local officials to honor federal immigration detainers; those who do, Justice Department lawyers have previously acknowledged, do so voluntarily.

San Francisco’s city attorney, Dennis Herrera, who sued the administration over the issue, accused the administration of trickery.

“They are trying to sneak major changes in the law through the back door because they cannot get them through the front,” he said in a statement on Tuesday. “These proposed changes would fly in the face of the Constitution.”

The budget for the Department of Homeland Security also signaled that Mr. Trump’s immigration agency intended to continue aggressively pursuing the deportation of immigrants present in the United States without authorization, in keeping with data that the administration released last week that showed arrests had shot up nearly 40 percent over last year.

The budget calls for $100 million to support more than 20,000 Border Patrol agents, including money to recruit and train 500 new agents.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency given the task of carrying out Mr. Trump’s goal of deporting two million to three million criminal immigrants, would receive $185.9 million to hire 850 new immigration officers, 150 criminal investigators, and 805 new support staff members.

The funding also provides for 125 new ICE lawyers to represent the federal government in its efforts to deport undocumented immigrants. Nearly $500 million would be used to pay for transportation costs such as charter flights used to deport individuals back to their home countries.

The budget requests an additional $1.2 billion to expand the nation’s detention capacity to its largest size in history. The additional jail beds for immigrants come amid record low numbers of illegal border crossers, a trend that began shortly after Mr. Trump was sworn in, suggesting they will probably be filled by people who are arrested within the country, rather than by new entrants. And it requests adding 70 federal prosecutors to the Justice Department, whose focus would be “to prosecute border crime and enforce our immigration laws.”

Mr. Trump’s budget also seeks to enhance programs that aim to ensure that undocumented immigrants cannot get jobs. It requests $131 million to support the expansion of E-Verify, an online system at the Department of Homeland Security that enables employers to check for the workplace eligibility of new hires by matching information contained in various government databases. About 670,000 employers use the system, which is voluntary. The Trump administration wants to make the system mandatory for employers, and Republicans in Congress have introduced legislation to do so.

“Turning off the jobs magnet will deter folks from coming to the United States,” said Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism for NumbersUSA, a group that supports significant reductions in immigration. “If they couldn’t work in the U.S., many of them wouldn’t come.”

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