"We spend $18 billion a year on making sure that the federal government has immigrant enforcement agents. That's more than DEA and the ATF and the FBI and all the other enforcement (agencies) combined."

Luis Gutierrez on Sunday, July 13th, 2014 in an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation"

Luis Gutierrez says U.S. spends more on immigration enforcement than other agencies combined

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., discussed budget priorities for immigration and border protection during an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation." We checked his numbers.
The border crossing between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, at dusk.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. -- a leader in the effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform -- says the United States is spending plenty of money on border enforcement.

"We spend $18 billion a year on making sure that the federal government has immigrant enforcement agents," Gutierrez said. "That's more than DEA (the Drug Enforcement Administration) and the ATF (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) and the FBI and all the other enforcements combined. But we still have a problem, right? So you can keep throwing money and talk about enforcement, enforcement, enforcement, but you've got to put money also into your judicial system, and you've got to put money in a comprehensive program that deals with the issue."

Gutierrez made his comments on the July 13, 2014, edition of CBS’ Face the Nation discussing the surge of unaccompanied minors at the United States-Mexico border.

We were surprised to hear him claim that the government spends more money on border and immigration enforcement than it does on all other federal law-enforcement agencies, including the FBI. So we took a closer look.

When we asked Gutierrez’s office for a source, they pointed to a January 2013 report by the Migration Policy Institute tiled, "Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of a Formidable Machinery."

The report found that spending in three federal-budget line items -- Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, and US-VISIT, an automated tracking system for visitors to the United States -- totaled nearly $18 billion in fiscal year 2012. That was more than the $14.4 billion spent by other law-enforcement agencies that year. Those agencies were the FBI, the DEA, the ATF, the Secret Service and the U.S. Marshals Service.

So, according to this report, spending on immigration enforcement did outpace other forms of federal law-enforcement in 2012.

But that’s two-year-old data, so we decided to do an update. Here’s the rundown of enacted federal spending levels for fiscal year 2014. Some of these agencies are part of the Justice Department and some are part of the Department of Homeland Security. On the suggestion of experts, we’re using each agency’s appropriated budget -- that is, the part of their budget paid by taxpayers. This method ignores user fees paid by companies and others directly to the government for services. (US-VISIT is now known as the Office of Biometric Identity Management.)



Fiscal year 2014 enacted spending




Customs and Border Protection

$10.7 billion

Immigration and Customs Enforcement

$5.3 billion

Office of Biometric Identity Management

$227 million


$16.2 billion





$8.2 billion

Marshals Service

$2.7 billion

Drug Enforcement Administration

$2 billion

Secret Service

$1.6 billion

Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

$1.2 billion


$15.7 billion


So using the updated dollar amounts for 2014, Gutierrez is still correct.

However, we wondered about whether other agencies should be included.

We found one agency to add to the immigration side (Citizenship and Immigration Services at $135 million in appropriated funds) along with two agencies that could be added to the non-immigration side (the Transportation Security Administration at $4.9 billion in appropriated funds and the Coast Guard at $8.3 billion).

When we asked the Migration Policy Institute why they hadn’t included the Coast Guard or TSA, spokeswoman Michelle Mittelstadt said that they were not included "because their missions are not primarily as federal criminal law enforcement agencies." She added that her group believes Gutierrez’s claim on Face the Nation is accurate.

However, Gutierrez didn’t specify criminal law enforcement -- and without that distinction (or perhaps even with it) we don’t see a good reason to exclude TSA and at least a portion of the Coast Guard.

Adding TSA alone changes the accuracy of Gutierrez’s claim. Adding in Citizenship and Immigration Services to the immigration side boosts the immigration total to $16.3 billion, while adding TSA to the non-immigration side would make the new total $20.6 billion.

Adding the Coast Guard into the equation would likely make Gutierrez’s claim even more wrong, though allocating the Coast Guard’s budget between immigration and non-immigration duties is tricky. By law, the Coast Guard’s mission includes such areas as port, waterway, and coastal security; drug interdiction; migrant interdiction; and "other law enforcement." So a portion would likely end up on both the immigration and non-immigration sides of the equation.

When we showed our calculations to Gutierrez’s office, Douglas Rivlin, the spokesman, said, "We were going from the report, which as far as we knew at the time was the best, most authoritative and most recent analysis available to us."

Our ruling

Gutierrez said, "We spend $18 billion a year on making sure that the federal government has immigrant enforcement agents. That's more than D.E.A. and the A.T.F. and the F.B.I. and all the other enforcement (agencies) combined."

He’s correct under an agency classification system developed by the Migration Policy Institute. However, the institute’s calculations exclude the TSA and the Coast Guard. According to the group, these are not criminal-law enforcement agencies, but that seems like a fairly arbitrary distinction to us, and, more importantly, since Gutierrez didn’t make that distinction, we don’t see a good reason to exclude them. Adding in TSA by itself would make Gutierrez wrong. Because different approaches produce different results, we rate the claim Half True.