This week, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017, which will fund the Federal government through the end of September of 2017. While the bill is a stopgap measure that simply extends existing programs for a few months, it also includes a few notable provisions relating to immigration:
- The bill appropriates $42.4 billion to fund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is an increase of $1.45 billion over the past fiscal year.
- Funding for Customs and Border Protection increases by $772 million. This funding will pay for the replacement of about 40 miles of existing barriers and other border security programs. While this funding will not allow for the physical barrier or near doubling in staffing requests mandated by President Trump’s executive order “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” it does provide $65 million to facilitate the relocation of CBP resources to remote areas.
- Funding for immigration detention increases by $390 million (at $2.71 billion total). This will pay for the spike in immigration enforcement against undocumented persons with and without criminal histories since January and the end of “catch and release” policies at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE’s budget for FY2017 is $6.43 billion.
- The Executive Office for Immigration Review, the division of the Department of Justice that oversees removal proceedings, will receive $440 million, which will include funding to hire at least 10 new immigration judges and to complete the modernization of systems and infrastructure improvements funded in FY2016. The bill includes case completion goals to push Immigration Judges to complete removal proceedings for detained immigrants. Some of these goals have potential due process implications.
- The rider that would allow for defunding of “sanctuary cities” proposed by the Trump Administration is not included in the bill.
- The bill reauthorizes through the fiscal year end the following work-related programs: EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program; Conrad 30, which waives the 2-year residence requirement associated with some J-1 exchange visas for medical doctors working in medically underserved areas; Special Religious Workers (EB-4); and E-Verify.
- The bill does not directly impact the H-2B program for temporary seasonal workers, but it includes a provision that could allow DHS to increase the H-2B visa cap, allowing for the issuance of a higher number of visas for short-term workers in seasonal industries. H-2B visas have been increasingly oversubscribed in the past few years, and many employers have complained that they are unable to find the staff the need among U.S. workers.
Immigration is an area that continues to remain in flux. While the Trump administration has primarily acted through executive order and agency memoranda thus far to impact U.S. immigration, numerous bills have been proposed by both Democrats and Republicans to impact border security, business immigration, and other issues of relevance to employers. While Congress’s attention is currently focused on healthcare, immigration could move to the “front burner” in the near future.