Fresh off of a visit to the Southern border, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), alongside several of her colleagues including Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), are demanding answers from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Acting Director Tae Johnson on the parameters of the Biden administration’s catch-and-release policies. Specifically, the senators have raised concerns regarding the Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program’s failure to meet its proposed goals.
“Under the Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program, ICE releases apprehended illegal immigrants into the United States with some type of temporary monitoring in the hopes that they will show up for their immigration court hearing and then depart if they are ordered to do so,” the senators wrote. “In a recent report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that ATD is failing to keep track of illegal immigrants ICE is supposedly monitoring. By ICE’s own calculations, 33 percent of the illegal immigrants unenrolled from ATD in FY2020 were unenrolled because they absconded and could not be found. GAO calculates that, overall, 9 percent of all illegal immigrants enrolled in ATD in FY2020 ultimately could not be found.”
The senators questioned the accuracy of these calculations, noting their concerns that they fail to accurately capture the ineffectiveness of the ATD program. The GAO report also found that over 75 percent of all ATD participants were unenrolled before the conclusion of their immigration proceedings.
“We are concerned that this practice obscures the true nature of the absconder rate, and incorrectly implies greater compliance and participation by illegal immigrants in the ATD program than is in fact the case. As an example, while most ATD enrollees are only enrolled for a short period of time, in a leaked 2019 ICE report on ATD, ICE reported that it tracked a population of migrants from initial encounter at the border all the way through their final order of removal, and found that 90% of them absconded,” the senators continued.
In the letter, the senators go on to ask ICE to provide updated data for those actively enrolled in the ATD program, additional information as to why ICE chooses to unenroll so many migrants and steps the agency is taking to apprehend migrants who have absconded.
Over the weekend, while down in McAllen, Texas, Ernst spoke with Border Patrol agents and local officials and residents who detailed the presence of unchecked cartels and illegal migrants in their communities.