The acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told a House committee Tuesday that the agency needs fewer detention beds for immigrants who face deportation and more funding for surveillance programs to allow them to stay at home instead.
Tae Johnson defended the Biden administration’s request for so-called alternatives to detention programs as a “much more humane” and “an effective and significantly less costly option” for immigrants who don’t pose a threat to the public.
Johnson, before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, was defending the Biden administration’s fiscal 2023 budget proposal to Congress for $8 billion for ICE, which would keep funds relatively consistent with this fiscal year.
The administration asked Congress to provide funding for just 25,000 detention beds — down from the current level of 34,000 — and requested an $87 million increase in funding for programs allowing for alternatives to detention.
These proposed funding levels are “just reflective of the administration’s position that alternatives to detention is the more appropriate and humane way of dealing with segments of the population that don’t pose a public safety or national security threat,” Johnson told the committee.
Committee Republicans criticized the proposed cut to detention bed capacity and questioned why the Biden administration would propose that ahead of an anticipated rise in migration to the southwest border.
Homeland Security officials have projected that border agents could see as many as 18,000 migrants daily once the administration lifts pandemic-related asylum restrictions known as Title 42 as early as next week.
“Once Title 42 goes away, we’re going to have an increased number of these people coming across, and instead of detaining them with those extra beds that you have, you’re cutting that and then going to be releasing those people into our country,” Iowa Republican Rep. Ashley Hinson said. “That’s what Americans are concerned about right now.”
Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., also criticized the administration for failing to fill up the detention beds that Congress already funded this fiscal year. He blamed the empty beds on the administration’s decision to narrow its enforcement priorities to migrants who committed serious crimes or recently crossed the border.
“Prosecutorial discretion does not mean you get to pick and choose what laws you will enforce. You get to pick and choose what order you will enforce them,” Rutherford said.