Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How the debt ceiling debate will affect U.S. immigration

The debt ceiling standoff between Democrats and Republicans in Washington DC has important implications on U.S. immigration. Political disagreement focuses on raising taxes. But the real concern, from the perspective of U.S. immigration, is actually about something with which both parties are in complete agreement. They agree on the importance of cutting discretionary spending--and in large quantities. 

With the exception of benefits processing at Customs and Immigration, most of the immigration work of the federal government comes from discretionary appropriations by Congress. If the two political parties do reach an agreement on the debt ceiling vote (and they likely will), unprecedented cuts to immigration programs are certain

The reason is simple: unless federal revenues (aka taxes) are raised--and this appears politically unlikely--large cuts to federal expenditures will be necessary. That's not just because of the looming debt ceiling vote, but also because there will be similar votes on the debt ceiling in future Congresses this decade. Because, according to Congressional Budget Office projections, the debt problem will keep getting worse, even if President Obama succeeds in getting the higher--$4 Trillion Dollar--agreement that he is seeking. (House Republicans are looking at a smaller deal, about half that size.)

The picture painted by Congressional budget staff is so dire that even the so-called "entitlements," long immune to even any discussion of cuts, are now on the table. Yes, social security, medicare and medicaid are all on the line. 

In this climate, it is safe to say that the budget ax will fall hard on discretionary expenditures. This means that 

  • the Executive Office for Immigration Review will face reduced resources, resulting in longer delays for immigration cases.
  • the State Department will put even fewer resources into consular processing. This will lead to increased frustrations and also damage U.S. trade
  • the Department of Labor's already-meager immigration staff will shrink. Thus, fast approvals of labor certifications for foreign workers may become a thing of the past.

Budgets for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), long sacred cows of those who favor strict immigration enforcement, will also face cuts for the first time. It might also mean that the budget impasse will finally reduce the historically high rate of deportations. 

Some of the foregoing will come to pass sooner, the rest later. The primary point is a realization that the current budget discussion is important from the immigration perspective. Results of the budget negotiations will surely leave their mark on immigration.

SOURCE: Info from Immigration Daily, ILW.com


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