ICE Director Says Detainee Releases Due to CR Uncertainty

By Rob Margetta, CQ Roll Call

While GOP lawmakers have blasted Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s decision to release thousands of “illegal immigrants” from custody last month, the agency’s head put the onus on Congress Thursday, saying he was only trying to work within the budget restraints imposed by operating under a series of continuing resolutions.

ICE let 2,228 detainees out into supervised release programs for budgetary reasons over a two-week period in February — a fact that became public knowledge after the agency attributed some of the releases to the sequester. But ICE Director John Morton said that the sequester only accounted for a few hundred of those. The rest, he said, were a result of the agency fearing that its detention accounts would be drained by the time the fiscal 2013 continuing resolution currently funding the government (PL 112-175) expires this month.

“A big part of what we were doing in February was trying to live within the budget that Congress provided us,” Morton told the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, adding at another point that operating under short-term funding bills has made budgeting for his agency difficult.

For years, the Homeland Security Department has been locked in a disagreement with Republican appropriators over how many«immigration» detention beds should be maintained. Congress has set a mandate of 34,000, while DHS official say that number is higher than necessary. When the department began talking about the sequester’s potential impact, its assertion that ICE would not be able to maintain that number angered GOP lawmakers.

But Morton said Thursday that part of the reason ICE faced a budget crunch was because it was exceeding that requirement. Four months into the fiscal year, the agency was averaging more than 600 beds over the mandate, he said. If it maintained those numbers, it would have resulted in a “yearlong shortfall of $128 million.” Instead, he said he approved the detainee releases to operate within the confines of the CR.

Questions of Flexibility

Subcommittee Chairman John Carter, R-Texas, noted that under the CR, ICE had the ability to ask Congress to shift money from other accounts in order to maintain the required number of beds.

“To the extent that ICE required additional funds to manage its operation needs, I cannot understand why anyone in the department did not seek reprogramming,” he said.

Morton responded that his agency and lawmakers have disagreed with what the mandate means. ICE has taken the position that it’s an average. Even with the releases, the agency has maintained it.

“From our perspective, we were maintaining an average of 34,000 beds,” he said.

Now that the sequester has kicked in, ICE has lost some of that reprogramming flexibility and is facing budget reductions. If it wanted to shift funding for detention beds now, Morton said, it would have to pull from another large account — the one that funds domestic investigations into child exploitation and other crimes.

“Sequestration, if it’s coupled with a mandate to maintain 34,000 detention beds at all costs … it would be at the expense of those investigations,” he said.

Ranking member David E. Price, D-N.C., a longtime skeptic of the bed requirement, questioned whether Congress should abandon it.

“Why in the world should we blindly adhere to keeping people in costly detention when we could use alternatives to detention?” he asked.

Detainee Details

February’s budget-related releases were spread throughout the country, Morton said, and focused on those who pose no potential security threat or flight risk. About 70 percent of those released have no criminal record, while the remaining were convicted of misdemeanors or minor charges, he said. About 150 of those released were unremovable because their home countries will not take them back. Morton noted that under current law, ICE is required to release such detainees rather than holding them indefinitely.

Carter reiterated the demands of several lawmakers looking for detailed information on the detainees’ criminal records. Morton promised to follow up with detailed information, but said that a total of 10 were Level 1 offenders, and that four of those were recalled back to custody after questions arose about the accuracy of their records.

While the Level 1 category can include aggravated assault and other violent crimes, Morton said the detainees in that category mostly had convictions for financial crimes. One, he said, was a case involving a single father with a five-month old child whose offense was committed 30 years ago.

The releases also included 159 Level 2 offenders. “The vast bulk of these sorts of folks, their most serious offense would be a theft offense,” Morton said.

Carter pointed out that the Level 2 category also includes people convicted of multiple drunk driving charges. “What happens when an illegal alien runs over and kills someone?” he asked.

However, the chairman later added that had ICE provided more detailed information on the releases, it could have avoided some of the outrage on Capitol Hill. “We could have saved quite a bit of time today if you’d just answered some questions,” he said.

Morton called that a “fair point.”

Some Republicans have said the releases could hurt efforts to overhaul the immigration system, a point that Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey raised at the hearing. “At a time of comprehensive immigration reform, the optics of this are just terrible,” he said.

Friends Of Adelanto Detainees: A New Visitation Program for Immigrants in Detention

 By Vickie Mena

If you drive North from the Ontario area about an hour, tucked back between the tumbleweeds and smoke shops you’ll come upon the tiny town of Adelanto, California. The population is just over 31,000, and the City’s marquee reads “Adelanto, the city with unlimited possibilities,” however, there is only one real reality…. detention. Not many people know it, but Adelanto has quickly become the detention hub of the high desert, with a federal penitentiary, the largest county jail expansion in the state, and within the last 17 months, add the largest immigrant detention center on the West Coast.

While the opening of the for-profit immigrant detention center in Adelanto created some low skill (and paid) employment, it mainly serves as this generations latest addition in internment camps. The facility is owned and operated by the profit reaping GEO group, one of the 2 largest, multi-million dollar making, private prison groups in this country (although they also see massive revenue from their international facilities). While Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has technical custody of the detainees (or “customers” as I have personally heard ICE officials give reference to detainees) our tax dollars also pay GEO to run the facility. Due to the fact that the facility is private, workers there aren’t privy to the same benefits and securities as their Correctional Officer counterparts (although it’s the SAME job!). This may include lower earnings and ultimately lead to less investment in providing services, possible contributing factor to the death of a detainee at the facility March 2012.

The facility houses male detainees from high level (and jail time served) criminal detainees, to those with NO CRIMINAL RECORDS. The facility stated that the average stay is 30- 60 days. For the detainees, that’s 30-60 more days away from their family, friends and loved ones. With the rural location of the facility, family visitation is little to non-existent. In fact with almost 1,300 detainees, sadly there are only about 30 family visits a day. Conditions at the Adelanto facility are even more isolated than lack of family visits however, with a continued lack of human contact through the court system. Without a right to an attorney, over 85% of those in custody will have to maneuver the complex system on their own. What’s worse is that there isn’t even personal interaction with the judge hearing their case. Court is conducted over television monitors, further dehumanizing the already degrading process.  

With an emphasis on humanizing the process, a small group in the Southern California area, Friends of Adelanto Detainees, has joined together to help end the isolation of detainees inside the Adelanto facility. With help and guidance from a national movement, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), Friends of Adelanto Detainees is about to start holding trainings for visitors, and very soon, will be able to start visiting detainees.

The purpose of the visitation program is to build friendships with those subject to the inhumane reality of the immigration system. The group cannot provide legal help, and does not proselytize. The goal is to simply be a Friend, have a conversation, and to listen to the stories of the men’s lives that are forever affected by detention.  Working with groups in the Ventura, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, another goal is to help provide resources and opportunities for family unification when possible. An example would be to help coordinate rides for family members to the facility with Friends members coming to visit.

Sharing experiences is a way in which we connect as people. For those in detention, especially in Adelanto, Friends visits may be the only personal interaction detainees have with the outside world. The only way to have a voice in a system aimed at silencing those it affects. A way to know that they have not been forgotten. Hearing the stories of those in detention allows visitors to witness first hand the realities of our broken system, and ultimately will help to shine a light on the dark practices of detention.   

Visitors from all over the Southern California area are needed to help get the Friends of Adelanto Detainees visitation program off the ground. Trainings will be provided, to give more information about the Adelanto facility, the role of a visitor, and to help potential visitors prepare for the emotional and mental rigors of visiting. It can be heartbreaking to hear detainees stories, and not be able to physically help them through their struggle, but it is important to know that the compassion of a visitor plays an enormous difference in the lives of detainees. Once the program start, visits will take place Tuesdays (12pm-8pm) and Saturdays (7am-8pm). Potential visitors are encouraged to go to the website: www.FriendsOfAdelantoDetainees.wordpress.com for more information.     

Also, with immigrant detention centers and facilities around the country it is not just the Adelanto facility in need of visitors. The James Musick facility in Irvine has a visitation program for immigrant detainees, and there is also a new program starting at the Theo Lacy center in Orange County. Both are a part of the Friends of Orange County Detainees program, and more information can be found by emailing: FriendsOfOCDetainees@gmail.com

No one knows what will happen in the future with immigration reform, what will happen to those that are currently in centers. The reality is that there are over 33,000 people in immigrant detention every day. These are our community members, our friends, our families. Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters.  The hope of the visitation movement is to be Friends to those who face an uncertain fate. Please join us!    

The School to Prison to Deportation Pipeline

This is a very disturbing report, highlighting how 80% of the youth in deportation proceedings are from California.  The interesting fact is that many of these children are funneled straight from their schools because of school discipline practices.  

Read the full report: The Minority Reports – Intersection of Criminal Justice, Immigration and Surveillance.

Read the executive summary:

Increased cooperation and collaboration between federal institutions and local law enforcement agencies in California has created a major shift in the way public safety policies are developed and implemented in the state. The notion of interoperability, or the ability of systems and entities to work and operate with each other, became more pronounced after the attacks of September 11, 2001. 

It has also changed the way we view law enforcement in our communities. In the name of “cooperation,” California has seen increased sharing of resources, data and personnel that negatively affects communities of color, immigrants, and people interacting with the criminal justice system. For example, the rapid expansion of immigration enforcement in the criminal justice system in the state has resulted in widespread bias against immigrants, and has created a two-­tiered system of justice in which noncitizens are routinely denied alternative release programs.

The quest for interoperability began as early as the 1980s, when the country engaged in a “war on drugs” and continued on as the “war on terror” commenced. This report examines the impact of interoperability in California, as it became the fulcrum on which the intersection of criminal justice, immigration and surveillance in the state, balances. It highlights the concerns and increasing problems that diverse communities are experiencing as a consequence of the interaction of these systems and the absence of transparency and of clear mechanisms to hold elements in the system accountable. It examines the view of information sharing as a panacea, the real dangers it poses to community safety and cohesion, and the impact on the human rights and civil liberties of people who are affected by them. It also emphasizes the absence of coherent and strategic institutional response to the problem engendered by the intersection. Finally, the report offers recommendations.

Antonio

By Sarah Jackson, Coordinator of Casa de Paz’s Visitation Program

Being part of the Denver Faith and Justice Conference didn’t change my life. But, it
did change someone else’s life.

His name is Antonio. He’s been detained for several months. Locked up, away from all family and friends, just sitting, waiting, sitting, waiting, sitting, waiting. Each day the
same thing over, and over, and over again. No visitors, no encouragement, no hope.
One day all that changed.

A young lady stopped by the table Casa de Paz set up at the conference. She learned more about what the organization did and how to get involved. One ministry really caught her attention. Our visitation ministry. We visit detainees in the immigrant detention center who otherwise would have nobody visiting them. Our visitors stop by, say hi, ask how they’re doing, but more importantly, they give hope.

She arranged a time for her and a friend, Daniel, to visit a few weeks after the conference. They stopped by Casa de Paz for a short training and then headed over to the immigrant detention center.

The man they visited was Antonio. He requested a visit but didn’t know what to expect. In reality, he really didn’t think anyone would actually show up. He felt forgotten. But, they did.

During their visit they talked about life, his story, his family, how much he misses them but hasn’t told them he’s detained because he doesn’t want them to worry, his loneliness, his despair, his dream of being released, and his faith.

Towards the end of their time together, Daniel asked if he could pray with Antonio. Although Daniel was nervous because he had never done anything like this before, once he started praying, the words “owed effortlessly from his mouth. Words of life, words of promise, words of love. God’s words. God was moving, big time, in that visiting cell.

After the word Amen was spoken, Daniel and Antonio looked at each other through the thick, cold, glass barrier separating them. Their eyes were full of tears. Not because they were sad, not because of depression, not because of the situation Antonio was in, but because the prayer had done something only God has the power to do. It had given Antonio hope.