Congressional Democrats are seeking to reduce the number of illegal immigrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention and encourage the release of thousands onto American streets as part of an omnibus spending bill, according to two appropriations bills, one in the House and the other in the Senate.
Democrats from the House and Senate proposed that ICE have the capacity to hold 25,000 illegal immigrants at a time “to prevent overcrowding that would create dangerous and inhumane conditions” in fiscal year 2023 appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), reducing the agency’s capacity over 25%.
If Democrats are able to include the plan in the omnibus spending bill, they would effectively hand organizations seeking to “abolish” ICE a victory, RJ Hauman, head of government relations and communications at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
In their proposals, Congressional Democrats have asked for increased reliance on what is known as ICE’s “Alternatives to Detention” program, which the agency implemented in 2004 to monitor illegal immigrants released from custody with tracking devices like cell phones as detention facilities lacked the capacity and immigration courts faced long wait times.
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“The law explicitly requires that all aliens crossing the border illegally be detained, but Congressional Democrats and the Biden administration don’t want to detain or deport anyone,” Hauman said. “So it isn’t surprising that they are attempting to undermine the rule of law by cutting detention capacity, disguising their efforts by calling it inhumane, wasteful, unnecessary etc. Slowly but surely, they’re trying to zero out detention bed space and allow organizations that seek to abolish ICE to operate deeply-flawed ‘alternatives to detention.’”
Congress funded 34,000 beds for ICE in fiscal year 2022.
“Anyone who is currently involved in serious spending bill negotiations must understand that the debate over detention bed space is not simply about a line item in a large DHS budget. What Democrats are pushing for exemplifies the divide between those who believe in ignoring our laws and those who believe in enforcing them. Republicans must stand up for the rule of law and keep detention beds at current levels, and then push for significant increases with more leverage next Congress,” Hauman added.
The plan comes as federal border authorities continue to see record numbers of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, with more than 2.3 million encounters in fiscal year 2022 and even more expected with the end of Title 42, a public health expulsion policy set to end on Dec. 21.
American Immigration Lawyers Association Immediate Past President Allen Orr welcomes less detention of illegal immigrants and says that ICE wasn’t filling detention beds in the first place, in a statement to the DCNF. With its funding for 34,000 detention beds, ICE currently holds nearly 30,000 single adult illegal immigrants in detention.
“The primary concept is that detention centers themselves are profit centers for cruelty, and that people fleeing countries should not be locked up in the first place because that’s what they’re fleeing from,” Orr said. “They’re not security risks, there may be some, but the majority of them are not security risks.”
As of Nov. 20, roughly 30% of illegal immigrants detained by ICE have criminal records, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).