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Report: Federal spending on immigration enforcement $18 billion in 2012

Immigration enforcement budget totals more than all other law enforcement agencies combined

The Obama administration spent roughly $18 billion on immigration enforcement last year, more than the federal government spent on all other law enforcement areas combined, according to a report released Monday.

The Migration Policy Institute found the U.S. government invested $17.9 billion into immigration enforcement in fiscal year 2012, roughly 24 percent more than the collective funding for the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which totaled $14.4 billion.

The report also found that the government's two primary immigration enforcement agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement refer more cases for federal prosecution than all Justice Department law enforcement agencies. Additionally, more people are placed in the immigration detention system annually than are serving sentences in U.S. Bureau of Prisons facilities for all other federal crimes.

The 182-page report, "Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of Formidable Machinery", is a detailed analysis of the current immigration enforcement system that grew out of the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986, a Ronald Reagan administration initiative that also provided amnesty for an estimated 3 million immigrants living in the country illegally. In the 26 years since the act was signed, the United States has spent $187 billion on immigration enforcement, according to the report.

"There has been an historic transformation of immigration enforcement into a highly resourced, robust infrastructure," co-author Muzaffar Chishtim said in a statement. "This modern-day system extends well beyond U.S. borders to screen visitors against multiple intelligence and law enforcement databases before they arrive and also reaches into local communities across the country via partnerships with state and local law enforcement, information sharing and other initiatives."

Some immigrant advocacy groups seized on the report as proof that immigration enforcement is bustling, and now is the time to address those immigrants who are currently residing in the country without a legal status.

Early critics of the report, including the Center for Immigration Studies, raised issues with some of the data. For example, the Migration Policy Institute used the entire U.S. Customs and Border Protection budget in its figures, even though some of its duties, such as inspecting cargo at ports, are not directly related to immigration enforcement.

While spending on enforcement in 2012 was 15 times greater than 1986 and deportations have reached record highs, apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border dropped to a 40-year low in 2011.

"The facts on the ground have changed dramatically and challenge long-held public skepticism over the federal government's will and ability to enforce the nation's immigration laws," report co-author Donald Kerwin, executive director of the Center for Migration Studies, said in a statement.

In December, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that 409,849 immigrants were deported in fiscal 2012, a record number that follows several years of record deportations under the Obama administration.

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