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How the 2011 Budget will Impact Immigrant and Refugee Programs

Seal of the White House Office of Homeland Sec...Image via Wikipedia

As you may already be aware, the President signed into law the Budget Control Act of 2011, which prevented the U.S. government from defaulting on its debt and requires deep cuts into future federal spending. While this is meant to affect all government spending, how will this impact immigrants and refugee programs? Over the next four months, Congress will have to make decisions that will shape the government’s capacity to provide protection and life-saving assistance to refugees, adjudicate immigration benefits, and enforce U.S. immigration laws along the border and in the interior. Depending on what is cut, there could be a huge impact on the budgets of the immigration agencies within the Department of Homeland Security. The Budget Control Act mandates $197 billion in cuts over the next ten years by implementing spending caps on discretionary federal spending. It also places an additional cap on “security” spending for the next two years, forcing Congress to divide up an estimated $5 billion in cuts among the Departments of Homeland Security, State, Defense, Veteran Affairs, and a couple of smaller federal agencies. This new law also creates a Congressional Joint Select Committee, commonly referred to as the Super Committee, a bipartisan working group of 12 members of Congress to recommend at least $1.2 trillion in additional spending cuts that need to be generated by 2021. The law requires Super Committee’s approval by November 23, 2011, a Congressional vote by December 23, 2011, and enactment into law by January 15, 2012. If the Super Committee fails to agree on legislation or if Congress fails to pass the Committee’s recommendations that meet the law’s specifications, Congress must apply across-the-board cuts. This means that if Congress fails to pass a bill that reduces spending by at least $1.2 trillion, cuts would be phased in annually through 2021 to cut a total of $600 billion from the Department of Defense and a total of $600 billion among the other federal agencies. Thus, at least theoretically, everything is on the table for cuts, including funding for refugee assistance, naturalization support, integration services, border enforcement, detention, and immigration courts. Although it is too soon to know how Congress will make these new spending cuts and what impact they will have on immigration and refugee programs, it is clear that Congress has an opportunity to make smart choices about how to allocate its limited resources. Let’s hope they protect the essential services and programs that provide support and relief to immigrants, refugees, and their communities.

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