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ICE contemplates releasing detained migrants amid budget shortfall

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is contemplating a plan to release migrants and lower its detention capacity to address a budget shortfall.
ICE contemplates releasing detained migrants amid budget shortfall
Posted at 9:11 AM, Feb 15, 2024

The White House and congressional Republicans remain at a crossroads over border policy as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is considering new measures to account for a budget shortfall.

A draft plan proposes releasing immigrants and cutting detention capacity by about 16,000 beds to account for a $700 million budget shortfall, according to reporting from the Washington Post.

A source confirmed to Scripps News the accuracy of the Washington Post's report.

It follows a failed national security supplemental bill that tied aid for Ukraine, Israel and Indo-Pacific priorities to U.S. border funding and policy. While Republicans have sought more stringent border policy measures, lawmakers did not support the deal after months of negotiations between Republican and Democratic senators critical of the Biden administration’s approach.

The bill included more than $7 billion in funding for ICE.

A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson said the rejection "will put at risk DHS’s current removal operations, put further strain on our already overtaxed workforce, and make it harder to catch fentanyl at ports of entry. Without adequate funding for [Customs and Border Protection], ICE, and [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services], the Department will have to reprogram or pull resources from other efforts.”

The draft policy originated within ICE, not the White House, according to an administration official.

As ICE confronts a budget challenge, it could put at risk modernizing ports of entry, additional border surveillance technology, the pace of removal operations, the capacity to adjudicate green card applications and the asylum backlog.

As the administration faces pressure for tougher immigration policies, the White House has sought to publicly apply pressure after the failed bill, accusing House Republicans of a confusing message.

SEE MORE: Kirby addresses concerns about Gaza, NATO and immigration

“I can't speak to these reports about what ICE is considering or not," said John Kirby, White House national security communications adviser. "I can tell you the president realizes that it's important that we that we improve our security at the border, that we get more Border Patrol agents down there, that we get more asylum officers down there, that we add technological capability to the border to help stem the flow of illegal immigration as well as fentanyl coming across that border."

Kirby noted the White House welcomed Senate negotiations, and still wants to see more resources and capabilities at the border.

“This is a moment of leadership and the speaker has got a choice to make. Does he want to be a leader here and answer the moment?” Kirby said.

But House Speaker Mike Johnson has not indicated a path forward, previously stating of a stripped down version of the supplemental without border policy: “It should have gone back to the drawing board to amend the current bill to include real border security provisions that would actually help end the ongoing catastrophe. Instead, the Senate’s foreign aid bill is silent on the most pressing issue facing our country.”

House Homeland Security Chairman Mark Green criticized ICE's draft proposal as “absurd,” accusing the administration of requesting cuts in fiscal year 2024 budgets.

The budget for ICE for fiscal year 2022 was $8.9 billion, and the 2023 budget was $9.1 billion. The administration requested $8.7 billion for 2024. That request was submitted to Congress in May 2023, but Congress has yet to pass a 2024 budget, instead using short-term stopgaps that kept agencies funded at their previous 2023 levels.

An administration official notes FY2024 is operating under the previous debt deal spending caps. The ICE proposal is governed by those limits. The supplemental funding request made up and adds to funding for the agency’s immediate needs, according to the official. 

In October, the administration sought an increase in funding with the national security supplemental bill that included more than $7 billion for ICE that would have included big increases to migrant detention space.

SEE MORE: Homeland Security recruiting border agents with $30,000 incentives

“On top of this, Secretary Mayorkas has consistently requested fewer ICE beds year after year, and then consistently failed to even fill the beds that Congress has given him. Right now, there are literally thousands of ICE beds unfilled because Secretary Mayorkas refuses to make use of them. Instead of treating enforcement as a hostage negotiation — ‘give us more money or else’ — Secretary Mayorkas should just do his job and follow the law,” Green alleged.

In response to Green, the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement, "If Congress once again refuses to provide the critical funding needed to support DHS’s vital missions, they would be harming DHS’s efforts to deliver tough and timely consequences to those who do not have a legal basis to remain in the country. 

"In recent years, DHS has had to reprogram funding from other critical national security priorities within the Department to ensure ICE and CBP can continue their operations. The fact that we are always considering options does not mean we will take action immediately, or at all. There are real limits to what we can do given current funding because Congress has failed to pass a budget or respond to the President’s two supplemental budget requests. "

The House voted Tuesday to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

“Instead of staging political stunts like this, Republicans with genuine concerns about the border should want Congress to deliver more border resources and stronger border security,” President Biden said in a statement.

The White House said President Biden spoke with Mayorkas on Wednesday.

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