Statement Of Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Amendment to Remove Transfer Authority for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations

My amendment is simple.  It ensures that the Department of Homeland Security cannot use its general transfer authority to increase the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) budget above what Congress provides. 

For two years, the level of funding for ICE detention beds has been carefully negotiated.  It is one of the most contentious issues we deal with in the DHS bill and is usually one of the last issues to be agreed upon.  And for two years the Trump Administration has brazenly ignored the will of Congress, abandoned the compromises we have struck, and rampantly overspent – incarcerating thousands more immigrants than Congress ever contemplated or approved.  Each time DHS ran out of money for detaining immigrants, it simply cannibalized other critical accounts – like FEMA and the Coast Guard – to continue paying its detention bills.

This needs to stop. This administration’s unchecked and unauthorized expansion of immigrant detention has absolutely nothing to do with public safety. Under President Trump, the number of detainees who have never been convicted of a crime – even a minor violation – has skyrocketed by almost 40 percent. Indeed, the majority of immigrants now being detained by the Trump administration have no criminal convictions. This administration is wasting taxpayer dollars on rounding up and detaining mothers, grandparents, and asylum seekers who pose absolutely no harm to us.

We should focus our finite resources on detaining those who truly are a public safety threat. For immigrants who are not a threat, we should expand alternatives to detention (ATD) which are more humane, cost efficient, and effective. The administration’s rhetoric belittling ATD as “catch and release” under which immigrants rarely show up for court proceedings is just false. According to the government’s own data, between 2001 and 2016, 86 percent of all immigrant families released from detention appeared for their court proceedings. 95 percent of asylum seekers released from detention appeared for their court proceedings. Alternatives to detention work. They are significantly less expensive than detention. And they are much more in line with our values than the mass incarceration of vulnerable migrants.  

This Administration has demonstrated that they cannot be trusted with the flexibility provided in this bill.  They need to live within the budget Congress provides, and they need to abide by the deals we strike. My amendment would bring about much needed accountability by stopping the runaway train that the Trump administration’s detention practices have become.    

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