Several Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities are below capacity even as illegal border crossings hit record highs, according to a DCNF review of agency data.
Thousands of ICE detention beds across more than two dozen facilities are empty, according to ICE data. Illegal crossings at both the southern and northern borders are skyrocketing, with more than 1.8 million encounters of illegal migrants between October 2022 and August, according to federal data.
The ICE processing center in Adelanto, California, had an average daily population of 16 illegal aliens where there is bed space for 640 individuals, according to ICE data as of September 18. The facility is largely empty in part due to court orders limiting use of bed space to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Reuters recently reported.
The DCNF calculated the sum of female criminals, male criminals, female non-criminals and male criminals in custody in each facility, and compared that figure to the facility’s minimum number of beds. Several facilities had more individuals in custody than guaranteed minimum bed space, according to ICE data.
The extent to which bed space was used varied widely by facility; for example, the South Texas ICE Processing Center had roughly 5% unused bed space in the facility, while others like the Golden State Annex had 72% available beds.
“Due to the influx of illegal migrants across our southern border, multiple states and localities have declared states of emergency, including San Diego, Chicago, New York City, the State of Texas, the State of Massachusetts, and others. Despite this, the Adelanto ICE Processing Center has sat nearly empty since a preliminary injunction order was issued by a California court in September 2020 implementing an absolute prohibition on intakes and transfers at the Adelanto facility due to the COVID-19 national emergency,” Republican California Rep. Jay Obernolte wrote to ICE regarding his concerns with the facility.
Additionally, at the Tacoma, Washington, processing center, there is an average daily population of 570 migrants, while the facility contains 1,181 beds. ICE’s Houston contract detention facility has an an average of 577 individuals in custody each day with bed space for 750, according to agency data.
At a detention facility in McFarland, California, there is an average daily population of 158, though detention space is available for 560 individuals, according to the data.
ICE officers who spoke with the DCNF described being hamstrung by policies implemented by the Biden administration that they believe hurt morale and public safety.
“It’s hard because of housing matters. Most detention bed spaces are going for those with criminal histories and with a lot of recent entries from November 2020 on, there are plenty who are only on final orders of removal with no criminal history in the U.S. Therefore, we cannot occupy bed space for those who have no criminal history here,” one ICE official said.
The officers said that one of the biggest issues for them has been restrictions on arrests that the Biden administration has been implementing since the end of July. The Biden administration’s priorities limit enforcement solely to illegal aliens deemed to be threats to national security, border security and public safety in order to “preserve limited government resources,” according to a 2022 ICE memo.
“It sucks,” a second ICE official said, adding that “the priorities restrict the ability to conduct enforcement actions, including illegal [aliens] with DUIs and misdemeanor convictions.”
Under the Biden administration’s policy, enforcement is largely limited to those who are suspected or proven to have engaged in terrorism, espionage and serious criminal conduct, according to the 2022 memo. Additionally, in a September 2021 memo, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas made clear that “the fact an individual is a removable noncitizen therefore should not alone be the basis of an enforcement action against them.”
The situation is collapsing agency morale because ICE officers feel they are unable to make arrests.
“A lot of Deportation Officers are jumping ship, going to the Marshals and Homeland Security Investigations [HSI]. ICE is hurting,” the second official said.
Illegal aliens ordered to be deported are going free because of the policies, the first ICE official said.
“We have a lot of people who meet the ‘priorities’ that we cannot even arrest. It’s almost like some sort of amnesty for these people. There’s no point in even having people report if we can’t arrest,” the first official said.
The issue stems from the Biden administration entirely, retired ICE Field Office Director and current board member with National Immigration Center for Enforcement (NICE) John Fabbricatore told the DCNF.
“The restrictive policies and priorities of the Biden administration, combined with a focus on releasing as many illegal aliens to the street as possible, has made interior enforcement of immigration laws secondary to giving benefits and government assistance. This administration’s neglect and lack of enforcement strategy are weakening our public safety and national security,” Fabbricatore said.
ICE didn’t respond to the DCNF’s requests for comment.
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