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Effect of Sequester on Immigration

March 4, 2013

White HouseOn Friday March 1 at midnight, Present Obama was forced to sign an automatic spending cutback, or “sequestration,” as negotiations with congress to avoid these cuts was unsuccessful. The spending cuts will have an impact on national security, domestic investments, and government functions. Included in the impacted areas is also immigration where we will see cuts in detention of immigrants and in personnel to adjudicate visa applications.

Even before the budget cuts took effect, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released hundreds of low level detainees in favor of using cheaper methods to monitor their whereabouts. It is estimated that thousands more will be released since the sequester came into effect. Those being released had been detained for minor traffic violations or have no criminal convictions at all and are only guilty of civil immigration violations like entering the United States without inspection. All detainees released will still be in removal proceedings and will have to await their day in court before the immigration judge.

The release of detainees will save the government thousands if not millions of dollars. On average, it costs the government between $122 to $164 per day to hold someone in detention. This daily cost will drop to between $0.30 to $14 per day with the use of alternative means to monitor those released from detention. The alternative methods include the use of electronic ankle monitors and periodic check-ins with ICE officials. In addition, the detainees will be able to be in their own homes and with their families while they await their day in court.

Detention of immigrants will still occur despite the budget cuts that took effect on March 1. However, detention will be a priority for those who are serious offenders and who may pose a threat to public safety or national security.

Another area of immigration that will be affected by the sequester is visa adjudications. There may be some delays in the visa application processes. It is anticipated that consular services will be slower than normal as the number of officers processing visa applications at the Department of State will be reduced in order to comply with the spending cutback.

Cuts will take place across the board in all areas, not just visa processing. It is likely that many application processes will be delayed in light of the budget cuts. Applications will still be processed in the same way as before the budget cuts. However, the time between when an application is submitted and when a decision on the case is reached will become lengthier. Before the sequester, the Department of Justice had been making great strides in getting visa applications adjudicated quickly. More visa adjudicators were hired in order to make the process quicker for everyone involved. Now that budget cuts have taken effect, many of the adjudicators hired will be forced to take days off without pay resulting in delayed adjudications for those applying for visas.

On the bright side, Obama has promised that he will continue to reach out to congress and search for a permanent solution to this problem. The budget cuts are currently in effect but they should not last forever. Hopefully an agreement will be reached in the coming weeks that will benefit all who are impacted by these cuts.

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