Federal immigration authorities faced with overburdened detention centers are scouring the country to find space to house migrants as the crush of asylum seekers that has overwhelmed the Southwest border spreads deep into the nation’s interior.
With mounting federal initiatives to hold more and more migrants in custody, officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which oversees long-term detention centers for migrants, are looking for additional space that can be rented inside existing jails, as well as fast-tracking the deportations of current detainees and releasing as many migrants as possible into the country to make room for newcomers.
In one initiative examined earlier this year, Department of Homeland Security officials looked at housing migrant children at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which has a dormitory facility that has been used in the past to hold asylum seekers. The proposal to house migrant children from the Southwest border there has not gained traction, perhaps because of the optics of housing young people adjacent to terrorism suspects, according to one official who had seen the proposal but was not authorized to discuss it publicly.
While there were no “immediate” plans to house migrant children at Guantánamo Bay, the Defense Department is attempting to identify military bases that might be used for that purpose, a department spokesman, Tom Crosson, said on Monday.
Much of the administration’s focus in recent months has been on the Southwest border, where the surge of migrant families seeking asylum has overwhelmed short-term holding facilities and left people languishing there for longer periods of time. But authorities already are confronting the next phase of detention, the long-term facilities in the interior of the country where many of the incoming migrants will eventually be transferred, and these also appear to be bucking under pressure.
Populations in the long-term detention facilities have grown markedly under President Trump, both because of increasing border crossings and his administration’s aggressive moves to arrest more undocumented immigrants in the interior of the country. ICE is currently housing 50,223 migrants, one of the highest numbers on record, and about 5,000 more than the congressionally mandated limit of 45,274.
In 2016, President Obama’s last year in office, the average daily population of immigrants in detention dipped to 34,376.
A detention crunch that homeland security officials described as already dire threatened last week to become worse with the announcement by Attorney General William Barr that the administration would soon begin mandatorily detaining additional asylum seekers, a move that, if implemented, could put thousands more in custody each month.
“It’s clear that all of our resources are being stretched thin. The system is full, and we are beyond capacity,” said Kevin K. McAleenan, the new acting homeland security secretary, speaking to reporters at a news conference on the border.
Despite its potential impact on the already congested detention system, a D.H.S. press officer said the agency supported Mr. Barr’s order on the detention of asylum seekers because it might discourage migrants from crossing the border to begin with.
Immigrant advocates said the detention crunch has been self-imposed by the administration and its policies.
Under President Trump, ICE agents have been encouraged to arrest anyone living in the country without legal status, regardless of their criminal record, whereas the previous administration put a priority on arresting and deporting undocumented migrants who were considered dangerous.
The Trump administration has also expanded collaboration with local sheriff’s departments to gain easier access to anyone in criminal custody who is also suspected of immigration violations. It has once again expanded the use of workplace raids — officials carried out the largest one in a decade earlier this month in Texas. And it has scaled back the use of humanitarian parole, which once allowed many asylum seekers to roam freely and work with temporary permits while they waited for their cases to be resolved.
The result is an increasingly congested system of long-term detention centers around the country, with officials signaling the need for more resources to house more detainees, while immigrant advocates argue that there are humane and effective alternatives to detention.
“We have to remember that it is a choice to jail asylum seekers, and it is a choice that is at odds with international human rights norms,” said Heidi Altman, director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center.
Ms. Altman pointed to case management programs that have been used in the past to ensure that immigrants show up for court. Studies have shown that the programs are both cheaper than detention and have a proven track record of near universal court compliance.
To address the current crush of detained migrants, ICE officials are working urgently to both expand the current system and to purge it of anyone possible, according to two officials at the Department of Homeland Security who spoke under the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal operations. That effort involves scanning the records of the detained population to find anyone who is ready to be deported immediately, and to identify anyone who qualifies for humanitarian parole and can be released to make room for others.
Another idea, drafted in a memo from Mr. McAleenan in his new capacity as the acting homeland security secretary, would ask the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review to dedicate most or all of its resources toward processing the cases of detained immigrants — temporarily pausing the court proceedings of anyone who has already been released into the country. The memo has not yet been sent, according to the official who disclosed it.
Officials in Washington have also suggested to ICE field offices around the country that they begin to release immigrants who have been granted bond by judges but have not yet paid them — presumably because they cannot afford to — in order to make more room.
Many of these measures aimed at clearing out space could face opposition from the White House, since they run contrary to the very policies that are creating the problem — President Trump’s often-stated desire to end what he calls “catch and release” of migrants at the border.
Meanwhile, authorities are struggling to identify new locations where migrants can be held in detention. The military awarded a $23 million contract in February to build a “contingency mass migration complex” at Guantánamo, a plan that would expand the existing facility to house 13,000 migrants and 5,000 support staff in tents. That project appears intended primarily to accommodate a crush of migrants that might accompany a new crisis in the Caribbean, though it could theoretically be used to house Central Americans.
In recent months, ICE has also signed or expanded a series of contracts, procuring nearly 3,000 additional beds to house migrants in state and local prisons and jails across the country. Staff have been moved to run the new facilities, but that has further stretched resources at existing detention centers, making it harder to keep cases moving on track.
Medical providers at some ICE facilities have also complained about not having enough resources to maintain minimum requirements, and the officials who spoke on background said that some ICE detention centers had been forced to lower their populations recently because they did not have enough staffing to meet medical standards.
Watchdog groups that favor less immigration detention are warning that slapdash efforts to expand the ICE system could leave detainees at risk.
“You don’t have to take my word for it. Their own inspector general has looked into this and expressed concerns about oversight, conditions, inspections, contracting,” said Mary Small, policy director of the Detention Watch Network, referring to reports that have documented a long history of inadequacies with health care, sanitation, the use of force and legal access inside detention centers. “Whether by systematically overcrowding the existing system or rapidly expanding it, it’s logical to expect to exacerbate all of the underlying problems,” Ms. Small said.
Congress has control over ICE’s budget for detention, and Democrats have often tried to limit funds in order to rein in the agency’s ability to make arrests indiscriminately. Even before the spike in migrant crossings earlier this year, the agency had been on track to require additional emergency funds this fiscal year in order to keep pace with trends at the southern border. Though the majority of those crossing recently are members of migrant families, who are typically being released into the country rather than detained, tens of thousands of individual adults continue to arrive each month, most of whom will end up in long-term detention centers.
Because most migrant families are being released to await the outcome of their asylum cases, ICE’s three family detention centers are largely empty now. Facilities certified to house families only have a capacity of about 2,500 people, in any case. Currently, 675 members of migrant families are being detained in one of those facilities in Dilley, Tex. A second one in Karnes City, Tex., has been converted to house adults, to help with overcrowding elsewhere. And the third in Leesport, Pa., is empty.
(Reporting by New York Times)
Trump May Pardon Military Men Accused Or Convicted Of War Crimes
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump has asked for files to be prepared on pardoning several U.S. military members accused of or convicted of war crimes, including one slated to stand trial on charges of shooting unarmed civilians while in Iraq, the New York Times reported on Saturday.
Trump requested the immediate preparation of paperwork needed, indicating he is considering pardons for the men around Memorial Day on May 27, the report said, citing two unnamed U.S. officials. Assembling pardon files normally takes months, but the Justice Department has pressed for the work to be completed before that holiday weekend, one of the officials said.
One request is for Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher of the Navy SEALs, scheduled to stand trial in coming weeks on charges of shooting unarmed civilians and killing an enemy captive with a knife while deployed in Iraq.
Also believed to be included is the case of Major Mathew Golsteyn, an Army Green Beret accused of killing an unarmed Afghan in 2010, the Times said.
Reuters could not immediately identify a way to contact Gallagher and Golsteyn.
The newspaper reported that the cases of other men are believed to be included in the paperwork, without naming them.
The Department of Justice declined to comment on the report, while the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Legal experts cited in the report said that pardoning several accused and convicted war criminals, including some who have not yet gone to trial, has not been done in recent history, and some worried such pardons could erode the legitimacy of military law.
Trump Administration Considers Flying Migrants Across Country to Relieve Border Crowding
The Trump administration may begin flying asylum-seeking families at the southern U.S. border across the country to have their initial claims processed, a Customs and Border Protection official said Friday.
For months, immigration authorities have been shuttling newly arrested migrants—mostly families and children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador—between border stations as facilities have become overwhelmed. Migrants have routinely been bussed hundreds of miles from the border in Southern California or El Paso, Texas, to as far away as Tucson, Ariz., before authorities process and then release them to aid groups.
Now, plans are being laid for the air transportation of parents and children out of overcrowded stations to other locations in the U.S., including northern and coastal states with Border Patrol offices that have capacity, if the flow of families doesn’t diminish, the CBP official said.
“This is an emergency. The entire system is overwhelmed,” the official said. “We are just trying to safely get them out of our facilities as quickly as possible.”
Border Patrol officials have flown nearly 1,000 migrants from overcrowded processing centers and stations in the Rio Grande Valley to nearby Del Rio, Texas, and San Diego since last Friday, another U.S. official said Friday.
The private, contracted flights have cost between $21,000 and $65,000 each and can carry a maximum of 135 people, that official said.
Mark Bogen, the mayor of Broward County in South Florida said Friday that he was told by local law-enforcement to expect as many as 135 migrants to be flown to the area and released by the Border Patrol after their asylum claims are processed.
Mr. Bogen said Broward County doesn’t have the resources to manage such an influx and that its shelters are already crowded with homeless local residents.
“We don’t know if these are seniors or kids,” he said of the potential migrant arrivals. “We were provided one thing: the number 135.”
The CBP official said no migrants were currently being flown to Florida. “We are in preliminary planning stages,” the official said.
The Trump administration contends that the record number of adults with children presenting themselves for asylum has brought the border infrastructure to a breaking point. CBP said on Friday that the agency had averaged 4,500 apprehensions per day over the preceding week. Some 248,000 migrants travelling as families illegally entered the U.S. between October, the start of the federal fiscal year, and April—more than in any prior full year.
Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, have blamed President Trump for exacerbating the flood of families to the southern border by cutting aid to Central America and threatening to close the border altogether.
The White House is seeking $4.5 billion in emergency border funding from Congress along with changes to asylum laws that the Trump administration says would make it easier to detain families longer, process applications more quickly, and deter more people from making the journey to the U.S.
Democratic lawmakers have refused to fund asylum policies they consider inhumane, but indicated late Thursday that they would consider funding some of the administration’s requests, making a counteroffer that excludes funding for detention beds, a Congressional aide said.
(Reporting by Wall Street Journal)
Trump Administration Rejects Subpoena For Tax Returns
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is missing another deadline to produce President Donald Trump’s tax returns. A top House Democrat says he expects to take the administration to court as early as next week over the matter.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (mih-NOO’-shin) says in a letter Friday that he will not comply with the subpoena from the House Ways and Means Committee for six years of Trump’s tax returns because the request “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.”
Mnuchin’s rejection of the subpoena had been expected. Earlier Friday, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal had said, “We will likely proceed to court as quickly as next week.”
Democrats are seeking Trump’s tax returns under a 1924 law that directs the IRS to furnish such information to the chairs of Congress’ tax-writing committees.
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