President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget for the Department of Justice contains $145 million more dollars for immigration enforcement than the current budget. While large increases in the Homeland Security budget for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Border Patrol have attracted attention, the Justice Department plays a key role in immigration, and funding levels there are important. Immigration Courts and criminal prosecutions of immigrants are within its jurisdiction and their costs are part of its budget. Increased ICE raids have a limited effect if there are insufficient judges on the bench to hear the cases of those the government is trying to deport.
The increased proposed funding will be used to hire 75 new immigration judges and 375 court-support staff. There are also funds budgeted to hire 40 more United States Deputy Marshals and 70 more Assistant U.S. Attorneys to prosecute immigration crimes like re-entry after deportation or using a false Social Security Number. Money is also being added to provide additional detention facilities.
At a briefing on Tuesday, May 23rd, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said that “We’ve asked all federal prosecutors to increase their focus on this area by making several immigration offenses a higher priority.” Without additional Assistant U.S. Attorneys, the criminal prosecutions President Trump has promised can’t take place. Legislation that is moving through the House of Representatives would expand the definition of immigration crimes and bring the risk of prolonged jail time to millions of additional immigrants.
The Trump budget for the Department of Justice is unlikely to survive the legislative process but it helps establish the new administration’s priorities. At a time when the rest of the Justice Department is being cut by 4%, the deportation and imprisonment of immigrants would rise significantly in Fiscal Year 2018.