Immigration officials lack bed space for 90 percent of apprehended illegal aliens; DHS proposes more cuts

Michael Volpe Contributor
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A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official has told The Daily Caller that the agency only has enough space to hold approximately one in ten suspected illegal aliens that it processes. The rest must be released because of a lack of beds in holding facilities.

Yet the current budget proposal from the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, calls for a reduction — not an increase — in the number of beds in those facilities.

“ICE only has 34,000 detention beds and over 300,000 individuals in removal proceedings,” said an ICE official who requested anonymity. The rest are given bonds or tracking devices, or simply released on their own recognizance.

In a Feb. 23 op-ed, Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith responded to the proposed cut in ICE’s capacity to keep suspected illegal aliens in custody.

“Under his budget for 2013, Mr. Obama reduces the number of detention bed spaces by 1,200 beds — from 34,000 to 32,800,” Smith noted. “The administration proposes using the resulting funds to enhance its alternatives-to-detention programs. But these programs result in higher levels of illegal immigrants disappearing into American communities.”

But Department of Justice records, Smith insisted, “reveal that since 1996, 40 percent of all non-detained illegal immigrants in removal proceedings simply became fugitives.”

A funding increase could bring an immediate increase in bed space, since ICE leases space from county-level jails to supplement its own immigration detention facilities.

According to a 2011 National Immigration Forum study, it costs the federal government $166 per day to house an immigration detainee. Homeland Security spends about $2 billion yearly on housing and deportation of illegal immigrants.

The study concluded that fewer, not more, detainees should be held.

“At a time of increased attention to fiscal accountability by the Federal Government, immigration detention raises a significant number of fiscal concerns,” the study says.

The study’s authors also expressed worry about “numerous humanitarian concerns endemic to immigration detention.”

The National Immigration Forum did not respond to TheDC’s requests for comment.

ICE is already under fire for releasing a suspected child molester named Amado Espinoza-Ramirez last September. Espinoza-Ramirez’s ankle was fitted with a monitoring bracelet, but he managed to detach it. He missed a court hearing and is now considered a fugitive. According to his Cook County, Ill. jail booking form, Espinoza-Ramirez is a Mexican national.

ICE officials have never specifically said that bed space was an issue in the case of Espinoza-Ramirez. Instead, they said he Ramirez was released because he had no criminal convictions and no prior immigration violations, and was the father of a U.S. citizen.

Espinoza-Ramirez faced forty-two counts of predatory criminal sexual acts, including multiple counts of sexual relations within his family.

Bed space was a central issue in a June 2011 memo on prosecutorial discretion issued by ICE director John Morton.

He wrote that his agency “has limited resources to remove those illegally in the United States. ICE must prioritize the use of its enforcement personnel, detention space and removal assets to ensure that the aliens it removes represent, as much as reasonably possible, the agency’s enforcement priorities, namely the promotion of national security, border security, public safety, and the integrity of the immigration system.”

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