Groups representing more than 3,000 sheriffs sent an urgent letter (pdf) to both House and Senate appropriations committees on Feb. 11 to urge lawmakers not to limit the number of beds at Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers.
Artificially capping detention beds was a last minute curveball introduced over the weekend by congressional Democrats during funding negotiations for President Donald Trump’s long-sought southern border wall.
“Capping the number of detention beds utilized by ICE not only jeopardizes the integrity of the immigration system, but would cripple ICE’s ability to detain criminal aliens and other aliens who pose a risk to public safety or are a flight risk,” stated a joint letter by the National Sheriff’s Association and the Major County Sheriffs of America.
Trump weighed in on the Democrats 11th-hour cap of 16,500 beds, a massive decrease from the roughly 49,000 illegal immigrant detainees currently held in detention facilities as of Feb. 10, according to widely cited ICE data.
“The Border Committee Democrats are behaving, all of a sudden, irrationally. Not only are they unwilling to give dollars for the obviously needed Wall (they overrode recommendations of Border Patrol experts), but they don’t even want to take [murderers] into custody! What’s going on?” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Ultimately, appropriations committee negotiators reached an agreement “in principle” on Feb. 11, granting only $1.375 billion of Trump’s $5.7 billion funding request for the border wall, and a cap on ICE detention beds at 40,520—a 17 percent reduction from the 49,000 currently held.
According to the sheriff’s groups, any reduction in ICE detention capacity creates “dangerous” public safety and national security risks.
Nearly 72 percent of ICE’s current detention population is subject to mandatory detention under current law, due to prior criminal convictions or because of the severity of alleged criminal acts, such as violent crimes and sexual assaults.
More than 90 percent of ICE’s arrests are illegal aliens who have a criminal conviction, have been arrested for a criminal offense, or have already been deported and illegally returned to the United States, the joint letter stated.
“This dangerous Congressional proposal not only jeopardizes the risk of our national security, but hinders our law enforcement officers from effectively enforcing and upholding the law and protecting their communities,” the sheriff’s groups stated.
ICE Deputy Director Matt Albence independently echoed local law enforcement concerns in a conference call with reporters on Feb. 11.
The Epoch Times obtained an on-the-record transcript in which Albence stated that the demand to limit ICE detention efforts is something he had never seen in his 24-year career.
“If we are forced to live within a cap based on interior arrests, we will immediately be forced to release criminal aliens that are currently sitting in our custody,” he said.
“We’ll be releasing gang members. We’ll be releasing individuals convicted of domestic violence and drug crimes. And we will stop—we will be limited in our ability to respond to state and local law enforcement agencies that are making arrests for these very crimes today, with these individuals sitting within their custody having been arrested for these criminal violations,” Albence said.
He also explained that news reports citing immigration arrests for trivial offenses, such as driving without a license or proof of insurance, are often misleading.
“That individual may have a rap sheet a mile long,” Albence said.
According to ICE, roughly 138,000 illegals were arrested in 2018 as part of the agency’s interior enforcement activities. But those same individuals accounted for more than 540,000 criminal violations, marking a high rate of recidivism among criminal illegal aliens.
“You cannot have border security without a strong interior enforcement component because you’ll continually have people to put the pressure upon that border,” Albence stated.
Failure to reach a final funding agreement could lead to another partial government shutdown, similar to the recent 35-day shutdown that spanned parts of December and January.
Trump speculated that Democrats were intentionally threatening a new shutdown by introducing such an extreme immigration detention position.
“Now, with the terrible offers being made by them to the Border Committee, I actually believe they want a Shutdown,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
The president held a rally Feb. 11 in the border city of El Paso, Texas, while lawmakers continued border wall and immigration enforcement negotiations.
“They said that progress is being made with this committee,” Trump said during the rally. “Just so you know, we’re building the wall anyway.”