House Homeland Subcommittee Oversight Hearing on Immigration Enforcement

On 3/14/13 at 10:00am Eastern the Homeland Security Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee Holds a “Oversight Hearing - Immigration Enforcement.”

AILA Testimony 03/14/13 Oversight Hearing – Immigration Enforcement (AILA Doc. No. 13031354.)

Witness List:

Daniel H. Ragsdale
Deputy Director
Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Gary Mead
Executive Associate Director
Enforcement and Removal Operations
Immigration and Customs Enforcement

John Morton
Immigration and Customs Enforcement

10:00am Rep. Carter (R-TX), chairman of the subcommittee, begins his opening statement questioning ICE's decision to release certain detainees from detention over the last few months and raises concerns about community safety as a result of these releases.

10:11am Rep. Price (D-NC) begins his opening statements questioning the rigid structure that House Republicans have placed on ICE, including the 34,000 detention bed requirement. He also questions the majority's desire to impose across the board sequester cuts without providing DHS flexibility to meet their needs. He states that he wanted to hear from CBP outgoing Director Aguilera rather than the current hearing.

10:15am Witness John Morton, Director of ICE, begins his testimony speaking on the effects of sequestration and budget uncertainty on the ability of ICE to maintain 34,000 detainees in detention on a daily basis. He assures the chairman there are no mass releases of criminal aliens under way.

10:21am Chairman Carter expresses confusion about how many detention beds ICE really needs based on testimony from Dir. Morton and Sec. Napolitano. You testify that you don't 34,000 beds, but you are filling those beds, can you please explain this?
Dir. Morton Answer: The President's budget calls for 32,800 beds and for more "Alternatives to Detention."

10:24 am Chairman Carter begins his Question and Answer sessions
Q: How many detainees were released?
A: 2,228 for solely budgetary releases
Q: How many were Level 1 offenders?
A: 10 were level 1 offenders, but 4 are back in custody.
Q: Why were they released?
A: There were inaccurate records entered into our system. 1 was for an offense that was 30 year old, 1 was a single father of a 5 month old child, the others were financial aggravated offenses.
Q: How many Level 2 offenders? 159, but 1 was returned back to custody. The vast majority of these folks include theft offenses, the largest of the categories is DUIs
Q: How many Level 3 offenders?
A: 483, this includes simple misdemeanors, single DUIs, shoplifting, traffic offenses.
Q: What state had the most detainees released?
A: Texas, but there were no Level 1 releases in Texas.
Q: Isn't what you're doing more serious than catch and release?
A: No, because expedited removal does not even go into immigration courts.
Q: Alternatives to Detention is designed to bring those before the Judge at a moment's notice. Is that true?
A: An intensive form of supervision.

Rep. Price begins Question and Answer session
Q: Walk us through the impact of Continuing Resolution and Sequestration. How will you implement $310 million of cuts while still maintaining 34,000 beds? At what percent can we expect apprehensions, deportation, investigating activities (including human smuggling), etc… to be reduced because of sequestration at the rigid 34,000 bed requirement?
A: the 5% reduction, $300 million, the truth is our single largest portion of our budget is $2billion, and so this is a huge cut. In my view it doesn't make any sense to cut those accounts. Sequestration, coupled with a 34,00 mandate, will require us to make tradeoffs that won't allow for an easy answer. We would be forced to reduce the activities of our domestic investigations. We are second only to the FBI and we have serious work. It is not good policy to ask us to maintain 34,000 beds.
Q: You don't plan on furloughing any employees because it would come at the expense of apprehensions and deportations. Why aren't you furloughing and will you have to reconsider that decision because of the bed mandate?
A: The overwhelming number of our employees are officers so we need them in place and my duty is to those employees. We cannot carry out our mission without those law enforcement officers.

Witness Gary Mead: It was my decision to release people, and who to release, based on information I received from our CFO that we would run out of funds otherwise. My only conversations about this matter were with Mr. Ragsdale and CFO.

Witness Morton: I did not have conversations with Sec. Napolitano or the White House, this was an ICE matter only. I take full responsibility.

Q: Did the sequestration impact your decision making?
A: Yes, but the principle reason was to get right within the budget by the end of CR.
Q: Are the released detainees are under supervised release, what does it entail?
A: Yes, everybody is under some form of supervision from ATD (about 20,000), to orders or recognizance, supervision and a bond. The vast majority of people in the docket are under a bond (about 150,000 people). The non-detained docket takes much longer (many years), than the detained docket (about a month).

Rep. Cuellar (D-TX) begins his question and answer session. Q: It's true that the authority for you to release aliens from detention is not new and has existed for decades?
A: There is a misperception that detention is the norm for immigration proceedings, it is the reverse, it is the exception not the rule. The vast majority of the system makes immigrants available for release.
Q: You have 250 detention centers in the country, you have men, women, children, asylum seekers, elderly, victims of trafficking, vulnerable mental health individuals.
A: We have to detain a wide variety of people.
Q: The cost to keep someone in detention is $122-$166 per day, about $59,000/year, is that correct?
A: Yes, detention is much more expensive than ATD, which are about $7/day.
Q: ATD can be very cost efficient and effective.

Rep. Owens (D-NY) begins Question and Answer session
Q: Why are resources concentrated to Southern Border region rather than Northern Border region?
A: Resources are concentrated in Southern Border, we have 6,000 beds dedicated in Rio Grande valley area alone.
Q: Talking about the beds, do you own the beds? Are these facilities owned by DHS or are they leased?
A: We have three kinds of facilities: those owned by ICE, those contracted detention facilities, those that are intergovernmental agreements that are excess capacity.
Q: Absent the mandate how many beds would you choose to have?
A: I am a proponent of CIR because our present system does not work well when it comes to removing people and especially removing people in a short period of time. My view is that detention is a very important power for immediate border cases for and for individuals that pose a flight risk or threat to community. The answer to the ideal number is whether or not there are ATDs when it comes to the removal order, they work well when it comes to getting people showing up to their initial hearing, but jury is still out if ATDs work when it comes to a removal hearings. Or if we had a more efficient system we could reduce the number of beds, the more time that a person has to stay in detention influences how many beds we need.
Q: If you have immigration reform, it's possible that you will need less beds?
A: Yes, it's possible.

Rep. Cuellar questions the panel
Q: What are the number of immigrants in removal proceedings in immigration courts across the country?
A: We handle 325,000 administrative cases, 25,000 at the board of appeals level, and 470,000 book-ins detention, but a very small number are actually detained, about 20,000 are actually detained.

Rep. Roybal-Allard questions Dir. Morton
Q: What about people in detention with USC or minor children?
A: During removal proceedings in these types of cases, especially with single parents, we're working on creating a series of options to try to respect and support any efforts at the local level on questions of parental rights. For example, if we have a father in custody we want to try to facilitate him attending hearings regarding custody of his children. There aren't easy answers. One other thing-we have made tremendous strides in reducing deaths in detention because of Gary Mead. In 2004 we had 24 deaths in our custody, this year we've had two deaths in our custody.

End of Hearing

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 13031142.