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After the Senate voted down an immigration deal that largely maintained the status quo, the Washington Post reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is now threatening to release thousands of aliens and cut detention capacity due to budget shortfalls.

The White House confirmed the essence of the Post’s report, saying the Administration may indeed be “forced” to reduce “its removal operations, its total detention capacity and more” due to budget shortfalls. According to the Post, the agency’s shortfall is nearing $700 million, a relatively small portion of the ICE’s annual budget, about $9 billion.

Questions are now being raised about how the department could so poorly predict the fiscal disaster, and what the department plans to do about it. The challenges faced by ICE are a direct result of President Biden’s own policies, which ICE has been implementing since Inauguration Day. While Americans typically see Border and Customs Protection (CBP) agents on the front line, ICE also plays an important role in helping to process the illegal aliens and transport them to detention facilities around the country.  ICE also conducts fugitive operations when criminal aliens are released from sanctuary cities, operates removal flights, and monitors more than six million illegal aliens who are awaiting their immigration court date.

Funding for the Department of Homeland Security for the remainder of fiscal year 2024 is still being debated by Congress, and the continuing resolution to keep the department open expires on March 8.  But if Congress does not appropriate more funding, ICE does not have to cut its operations. The Department of Homeland Security could “reprogram” dollars from other agencies – such as the Coast Guard, Secret Service, FEMA or Transportation Security Administration.  Indeed, DHS could take money from FEMA’s Shelter and Services program—a program that provides hundreds of millions worth of services to illegal aliens arriving in the U.S. – and reprogram some of that money to ICE.

This is not the first time that ICE has suffered budgetary constraints and considered releasing immigration violators and criminals. In February 2013, the Obama-Biden Administration released around 2,200 illegal aliens in detention facilities because of across-the-board cuts to departments and agencies. There was public backlash and congressional hearings that questioned why the department was not better prepared and whether they considered the effects on public safety.  The White House, at the time, stated that it played no role in the releases.

As of February 12, ICE was detaining 38,498 illegal aliens in various detention facilities across the country.  Of those, nearly a third (12,526) had pending criminal charges or were convicted criminals. The supposed ICE plan would reduce detention capacity from 38,000 beds to 22,000. This is far below the minimum number of beds Congress requires ICE to maintain: 34,000.

Clearly the Biden Administration is seeking to blame Congress for a budget shortfall at ICE to advance what it has wanted to do all along: cut immigration detention.  The last two years in a row, the Biden Administration has proposed cutting detention beds in its annual budget—while the President insists he is doing everything within his power to secure the border.  If the Biden Administration were indeed serious about enforcing our laws, it could find money for ICE from other agencies.  Or even better, it could reverse its open-borders policies and secure enough support in Congress for appropriating additional funds.

Author: FAIR


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