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January 15, 2013

Report: Billions Spent on US Immigration Enforcement Have Impact

by Jeff Seldin

Like so many people in the United States, Claudia Hernandez wakes up every day, goes to work and comes home to take care of her children.

But Hernandez, who is not a U.S. citizen, said "I came when I was 13 years old, to California.  I was, of course, illegal. I was living in California for about 20 years and then I came to Maryland 10 years ago."

And after decades living and working in the U.S., the law finally caught up with her.  She was facing deportation.

"If I was going to be deported, then who was going to take care of my kids?  Who was going to see that my daughter goes to school every day, that she's healthy, that she's fine, that she eats," said Hernandez.  "Where is she going to go to sleep?"

A two-decade shift in funding has put more staff, equipment and screening capabilities to work protecting U.S. borders. And a recent report by the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute says funding last year for immigration enforcement agencies totaled close to $18 billion, more than $3 billion higher than the combined budgets of the country's other principal law enforcement agencies. 

With more money being spent on enforcement, deportations have more than doubled over the past decade, according to the Immigration Policy Center, a non-partisan research group.

Groups that help immigrants adjust in the U.S. say there's more fallout.

"The enforcement factor does play a role and what it more plays a role into is migrants using smugglers and going into organized crime to seek assistance to cross the border," said Jaime Farrant, executive director of Ayuda, which provides legal services to immigrants.
 
Along the border with Mexico, recent violence has sparked renewed concern.

Volunteers from Jim Gilchrist's Minuteman Project used to help patrol the border until it became too dangerous.  Gilchrist says the $18 billion spent last year on enforcement is not nearly enough.

"You're still seeing a rampant intrusion of vehicles bringing drugs or human cargo in or foot traffic bringing drugs and human cargo in," he said.

There's no shortage of emotion when it comes to immigration and previous efforts at reform have stalled.  But there seems to be a growing consensus in Congress that it may be time to try again.

George Mason University Professor David Hart hopes that's the case. "We also need to talk about the numbers of people who come to the country, what kinds of people we want immigrating to the country, and we haven't really been able to have those discussions because we've been hung up on the border," he said.

As for Claudia Hernandez, she considers herself lucky. She fought deportation and won and is now a legal immigrant and she's dreaming of one day becoming a U.S. citizen.

"Of course, I've been here more than half of my life, and I respect the United States," she said. "This is my country."