- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2005

The agency responsible for detaining and removing illegal aliens in the United States will run out of money and have to start releasing detainees in five days, an immigration enforcement agent told Congress yesterday, although agency officials called the charge “categorically not true.”

Randy Callahan, a detention agent in San Diego and executive vice president of the National Homeland Security Council union, said he has received information that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will run out of money for detention by Tuesday.

“Within five days, we almost either have to violate the anti-deficit act and hold people in custody … or release them,” he testified before the House Judiciary immigration, border security and claims subcommittee.

ICE officials, however, said Mr. Callahan was “extremely misinformed.”

“The notion that we are somehow going to be releasing our detainees is categorically false,” said Russ Knocke, ICE’s director of public affairs.

He said the agency will continue to operate the 19,000 detention beds at all of its detention facilities, and will not be releasing dangerous criminal aliens, as Mr. Callahan has charged — in part because 80 percent of the detainees are “mandatory holds” who cannot be released without a judge’s order.

Mr. Callahan said the first releases prompted by budget constraints already are occurring in San Diego.

“Apparently management told employees that the office has to reduce their adult detention bed space to 100 from over several hundred,” he said.

Mr. Callahan said he had tried unsuccessfully at securing documentation to back up the San Diego release policy or the pending nationwide budget crunch.

Mr. Knocke said San Diego is “running above capacity” and will have to juggle detention spaces some time in the future, but that was because of bed space limitations, not a budget crunch.

And he said those who are not held aren’t simply released outright, but are given “alternatives to detention,” such as electronic monitoring.

The hearing yesterday was called to examine President Bush’s budget request for fiscal 2006, which funds 143 new ICE investigators out of 800 called for in last year’s intelligence overhaul bill, 1,920 new detention beds out of the 8,000 requested, and 210 new Border Patrol agents out of the 2,000 requested.

Committee members of both parties have said they will work to fund bigger increases in this year’s spending bills.

But for now, Democrats are using the funding issue to highlight a difference between Mr. Bush and his party on immigration.

Yesterday, Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, said she was surprised at the need for hearings because Republicans control the White House and Congress. She said the solution would be for her “friends on the opposite side of the aisle [to] tell the president to do the right thing” and fund the full requests.

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