ICE Fights Failed Bill With Plans To Release Thousands of Detained Migrants 

chrisdorney /
chrisdorney /

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has devised a plan to release thousands of detainees currently being held in facilities. This new “strategy” follows the Senate’s failure to pass a bipartisan border bill that would have provided $6 billion in supplemental funding for ICE enforcement operations. 

The plan aims to slash ICE detention levels from 38,000 beds to 22,000 beds. This reduction would involve releasing detainees deemed non-threatening to public safety or national security. According to sources at ICE and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), while some detainees would be released through deportations, most would be set free in the U.S. 

The initiative was prompted by a $700 million ICE budget shortfall, attributed to the record number of crossings at the southern border in late 2023. This surge strained the resources and capacity of DHS agencies. ICE officials warned that cost-cutting measures such as detainee releases and operational reductions would be necessary without additional funding from Congress. 

The plan potentially entails the release of up to 16,000 detainees. However, details regarding the exact number and locations of the releases remain unclear, and the plan has not been officially confirmed or announced by ICE or DHS. The plan would impact many facilities, including the one in Aurora, Colorado, which housed approximately 900 detainees in December 2023, according to U.S. Representative Jason Crow’s (D-CO) office. 

On Tuesday, House Republicans cast votes to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas due to his border record. The House approved the impeachment by a narrow majority, with the votes standing at 214 to 213. This impeachment vote followed a previously unsuccessful attempt a week earlier.  

Republicans seek to impeach Mayorkas based on the constitutional grounds of high crimes and misdemeanors, the standard for impeaching federal officials as outlined in Article II, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution. Republicans assert that Mayorkas is in willful violation of various immigration laws, particularly a statute from the 1990s mandating the federal government to detain certain migrants. 

But Democrats and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) counter that Congress has not allocated the funding or personnel necessary for detaining all migrants covered by the law. Legal experts and constitutional scholars have also expressed the opinion that the accusations against Mayorkas do not meet the threshold of impeachable offenses and argue that Republicans are “misusing” impeachment proceedings to address policy disagreements. 

Some critics are skeptical of ICE’s claim to be underfunded. Silky Shah, the executive director of Detention Watch Network, expressed mixed sentiments regarding recent developments in ICE funding. While relieved that ICE did not receive a budget increase projected to exceed $7 billion, Shah emphasized the ongoing demand for cuts to the ICE budget to shrink the detention system.  

“We find it problematic that the framing is that ICE is facing cuts, when in fact, ICE’s budget has continued to grow astronomically year after year,” Shah said. 

Arrests by ICE leading to deportations have significantly decreased under the Biden administration compared to the Trump era, dropping from about 80,000 to 35,000 per year. The majority of individuals in ICE custody are recent arrivals detained along the Mexico border, not immigrants arrested for crimes within the United States. A reduction in ICE detention capacity would lead to more deportation-eligible migrants being released along the border, undermining the Biden administration’s new-found strategy of using consequences like deportations to deter illegal crossings. 

The budget constraints and the measures proposed by ICE create a challenging situation for the Biden administration as they approach the spring, a time when illegal crossings at the southern border are anticipated to surge once more. Immigration continues to be President Biden’s lowest-rated issue in polls, highlighting increasing concerns surrounding the administration’s handling of the border. 

It’s a never-ending gridlock at the border. ICE wants more money, but Congress won’t give it to them. Republicans want to impeach Mayorkas, but Democrats won’t let them. Activists want to end detention, but ICE won’t listen to them. Thousands of immigrants are waiting for their fate to be decided by a bunch of politicians who can’t agree on anything in a nation that increasingly says it doesn’t want them.  

Welcome to Biden’s America.