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Spending Bill Includes Measure That Would Expand ICE Detention Capacity

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congress has released the text of its spending bill to avert another government shutdown. The measure, which was passed by the Senate late this afternoon and is now on its way to the House for a vote, would fund nine federal departments, keep the government open through at least September 30, and allow 800,000 federal workers to stay employed. However, among many controversial provisions, it would fund the expansion of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) immigration detention capacity to an unprecedented average of approximately 45,000 people.

In response to this portion of the spending bill, Katharina Obser, senior policy advisor for the Migrant Rights and Justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), issued the following statement:

“ICE has already gotten away with overspending its detention funding and then counting on its ability to reprogram funds and on Congress to detain record numbers of men, women, and children. Today’s bill does nothing to curtail this recklessness and harm. Instead, it again increases ICE’s funds, while implementing no meaningful checks, thereby allowing ICE to plow ahead in increasing its already irresponsible and reckless use of detention.

“By allowing for an increase in the average daily population, and without a check on ICE’s and the Department of Homeland Security’s ability to reprogram funds within the agency toward detention, WRC is deeply concerned that ICE will get exactly what President Trump has always wanted – record levels of detention beds, and, more importantly, an unchecked ability to increase detention that is key to his attacks on those seeking safety at our border.

“These numbers represent an unprecedented increase from the 34,000 detention beds ICE maintained as recently as 2016 – a time when WRC was already critical of the overuse of a deeply flawed detention system. WRC has for decades documented the harms of ICE’s immigration detention system – both in family facilities and in facilities that detain adults only. WRC is not alone. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s own Office of Inspector General (OIG) has issued multiple reports on ICE’s problematic detention practices and, moreover, the agency’s poor inspection and oversight processes. This is a system that needs an overhaul, not expansion.

“Data show that community-based alternatives to detention that cost a fraction of detention, have almost perfect compliance rates, and have received bipartisan support from appropriators and voters exist. Yet ICE intentionally terminated its highly successful Family Case Management Program despite these successes. Although today’s bill allocates some funding for case management, it is unclear how ICE will use these funds and whether it will attempt to replicate the former program’s key elements and successes.

“WRC is deeply disappointed that today’s bill continues this administration’s devastating detention practices. Congress must do everything in its power over the rest of this fiscal year – and in preparing for the next – to hold ICE to account for its costly and inhumane practices, and to reject ICE’s continued expansion of this harmful system.”