Posted on February 15, 2024

After Border Bill Failure, ICE Considers Mass Releases to Close Budget Gap

Nick Miroff, Washington Post, February 14, 2024

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has drafted plans to release thousands of immigrants and slash its capacity to hold detainees after the failure of a Senate border bill that would have erased a $700 million budget shortfall, according to four officials at ICE and the Department of Homeland Security.

The bipartisan border bill that Republican lawmakers opposed last week would have provided $6 billion in supplemental funding for ICE enforcement operations. The bill’s demise has led ICE officials to begin circulating an internal proposal to save money by releasing thousands of detainees and cutting detention levels from 38,000 beds to 22,000 — the opposite of the enforcement increases Republicans say they want.

The budget crunch and the proposal also present a difficult scenario for the Biden administration heading into the spring, when illegal crossings at the southern border are expected to spike again. {snip}


DHS could try to cover the funding gap at ICE by reprogramming money from the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration or other agencies within the department. But such moves are contentious, and ICE officials say the $700 million deficit is the largest projected shortfall the agency has faced in recent memory.

Some of the proposed cost savings would occur as deportations reduce ICE detention levels, but much of it would have to happen through the mass release of detainees, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal deliberations.


Record crossings in late 2023 left Department of Homeland Security agencies burning through their budgets for the 2024 fiscal year that started Oct. 1.


Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.), who led the impeachment proceedings against Mayorkas as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and told reporters Wednesday he is retiring at the end of his term, said it was “absurd” that the administration would blame Republicans for ICE’s funding woes because Biden officials have previously tried to cut the agency’s budget.


Faced with record numbers of illegal crossings at the Mexico border and mounting criticism from his own party, Biden has deployed ICE officers more aggressively and ramped up deportation flights in recent months. White House officials say the administration has deported or returned 500,000 migrants since May, more than Trump did on an annual basis during his term.

Biden did not start off with that approach. The president ordered a temporary pause on ICE deportations when he took office in January 2021. His administration directed ICE officers to be more restrained and prioritize immigrants who pose a national security or public safety threat, along with the most recent border-crossers.

Arrests by ICE resulting in a deportation have fallen from about 80,000 per year under Trump to roughly 35,000 per year during Biden’s first three years, according to the Office of Homeland Security Statistics.

Most of the detainees in ICE custody are not immigrants arrested in U.S. cities for crimes, but recent arrivals taken into custody along the Mexico border, ICE statistics show. Of the 38,500 detainees who were in ICE detention at the end of January, 72 percent were transferred by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

A major reduction in ICE detention capacity would be likely to lead to more deportation-eligible migrants getting released from U.S. custody along the border, DHS officials said. That would further undermine the Biden administration’s strategy of applying “consequences” — especially deportations and returns — to deter migrants who cross illegally and don’t qualify for asylum.