Report: Limited Detention Space Forces ‘Catch And Release’ Of Illegal Aliens


The Department of Homeland Security is still setting many detainees free because it doesn’t have the resources to keep them in custody following their arrests, despite assurances that it has ended the practice of releasing illegal aliens pending their immigration hearings.

DHS Secretary John Kelly proclaimed in April that the Trump administration has ended “catch and release” enforcement policies, which he defined as any policy that allows immigrants to be released from detention while they await court dates.

But some attorneys and and officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told Reuters there has been no clear change to the catch and release policy, largely because the department has limited space place to house detainees. Court rulings also force the government to release certain categories of aliens who are awaiting a final determination from an immigration judge.

Daniel Bible, the ICE field office director for Southern Texas, claims he and his colleagues have not received new guidance and continue to release illegal immigrants who are low security risks, usually with notices to appear (NTA) in court.

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“We look at each case the same way we always have,” Bible told Reuters.

DHS spokeswoman Jenny Burke confirmed Bible’s comments, saying that “ICE officers make custody determinations on a case-by-case basis, prioritizing detention resources.”

Part of the problem for ICE is a simple matter of logistics: there isn’t nearly enough detention space to house all of the illegal immigrants who have been issued NTAs. Congress has funded about 34,000 beds to detain immigration violators, reports Reuters, and the average daily population in immigration detention centers has been at or above capacity since the Obama administration.

DHS identified in April up to 33,000 additional beds in state, local and private detention facilities, which would effectively double the nation’s immigration detention capacity. However, the fiscal year 2017 budget deal passed in May only provided funding for about 5,000 new beds.

The dearth of detention space is one reason why the pool of illegal immigrants living freely in the U.S. while awaiting a court hearing continues to expand. As of April 2017, there were an all-time high 585,ooo cases in the immigration court backlog, according to data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

Since Trump took office in January, the pending caseload has grown by 30,000, rising by an average of about 7,500 per month. The growth rate is much lower than during the last seven months of President Barack Obama’s presidency, when it averaged about 20,600 people per month.

Court rulings also limit who can remain in immigration detention as their cases work through the courts. Women and children can only remain in custody for 21 days, and a separate court decision places a limit on detention time for those illegal immigrants whose native countries refuse to take them back.

The Trump administration hopes to create additional detention space by speeding up the immigration hearing process. The Justice Department has requested funding for an additional 125 immigration judges over the next two years, reports Reuters.

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