Immigration Provisions in the $1.5 Trillion Spending Package Just Passed by Congress
FAIR Take | March 2022
This week, the House and Senate passed the omnibus spending package that funds the federal government for the remainder of the 2022 fiscal year (until September 2023). The bill totals in at $1.5 trillion, alongside $13.6 billion to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The vote Wednesday night followed a day of political drama that saw emergency coronavirus funding struck from the legislation, which passed just in time for House Democrats to depart for their annual retreat in Philadelphia.
So, what are the immigration provisions in the omnibus?
The House approved the 2,741-page bill in two tranches, with the defense portion passing on a 361-69 vote and the domestic agency funding passing on a 260-171 vote. Homeland Security funding – which includes almost all of the bill’s immigration provisions – was part of the defense portion. Then, 24 hours later, the Senate passed both tranches together by a vote of 68-31, sending it to President Biden’s desk before funding runs out.
Overall, the bill’s immigration provisions are mild when considering that Democrats have unified control of the House, Senate, and White House.
The omnibus goes beyond current funding levels with a $240 million cash infusion for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and $1 billion for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). It also maintains funding for critical programs like border wall construction and keeps detention space at Trump-era levels. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there are no mechanisms in the spending package that will compel the Biden administration to spend the money as intended. In fact, based on President Biden’s first 14 months in office, there is every reason to believe that the money will be diverted to support the administration’s anti-enforcement efforts.
Fortunately, the bill left out a number of open-border priorities that Democrats previously pushed for, including eliminating policy proposals that would have limited ICE by preventing Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) from assisting with Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), restricted mandatory detention for criminal aliens, used tax dollars to pay a prevailing wage to aliens in detention, and other matters. It also failed to include a FAIR-opposed provision that would apply unused green cards to address the current immigration visa backlog.
This said, there are negative legal immigration provisions in the bill as well. In what has become a new normal in spending bills, the omnibus gives the secretary of Homeland Security the ability to double the number of H-2B visas issued in the fiscal year. It also rescinds a Trump-era program that set aside H-1B fees to provide job training to American workers.
It also reauthorizes the EB-5 investor visa program, which allows foreign nationals to buy green cards, a program plagued by fraud since its creation in 1990. It is worth noting that the EB-5 reauthorization contains a number of reforms taken from a bill FAIR once supported when the program was in place. FAIR wanted the program to remain dormant, however, and this bill brings this grotesque program back to life.
The 2022 omnibus package is, in a sense, a small victory given what could have been in the package. Due to pressure from Republicans, Democrats stripped a number of terrible policy riders from the final legislation that would further handicap ICE and CBP’s ability to do their jobs. They also removed the proposed green-card expansion that would go around existing law.
The fact is this: in a year when Democrats control the House, Senate, and White House, the bill could have been much, much worse.