- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2019

Congressional negotiators were closely guarding details of their immigration detention bed compromise Monday, but it appeared to include language that would force ICE to cut the number of illegal immigrants it detains by thousands of people a day.

Democrats were pushing for deep cuts, hoping to impose a limit of 34,000 total beds per day, split between 16,500 spaces for people caught in the interior of the U.S. and the rest for those arrested at the border.

They appeared to have been only partially successful, losing their battle for an interior limit, but winning deep cuts to the overall level of detention, to an average daily population of about 40,000.

That’s far less than President Trump’s request of 52,000.

And ICE currently has about 49,000 people in custody, and has averaged nearly 46,000 through the first four months of the fiscal year, so if a 40,000 cap is imposed it would mean having to cut detention by 10,000 to 12,000 beds a day to end up with the 40,000 average for the year.

Democrats say it could be managed without releasing “violent felons” out onto the streets, saying ICE just needs better priorities.

“Claims that this proposal would allow violent criminals to be released are false,” a Democratic aide told reporters over the weekend. “Our proposed cap will ensure that the Trump administration adheres to congressional funding decisions and targets violent felons and other people who pose security risks for deportation, instead of pursuing reckless mass deportation policies that actually make us less safe.”

But it became clear Monday that Democrats and the Trump administration didn’t share the same definition of what constitutes a violent felon or a public safety risk.

Acting ICE Deputy Director Matt Albence told reporters ICE has as many as 22,000 people in custody right now who were arrested in the interior of the country.

Democrats’ limit would mean they’d have to cut that number by 5,500.

Since the funding numbers are based on a yearly average, ICE would have a couple of options.

It could release people onto the streets or, more likely, it would arrest fewer people over the remainder of the fiscal year.

Mr. Albence said among those released would be gang members, spouse abusers, people convicted or charged with drug offenses, and drunken drivers.

He said Democrats’ push was a backdoor way to achieve the “abolish ICE” goal of some on the political left.

“It’s unfortunate that people are putting politics over public safety,” he said.

Congress for more than a decade has set a mandatory minimum on the number of people ICE should have in custody.

Dubbed the “bed mandate,” it’s been controversial among immigrant-rights activists who say it’s been steadily increasing, pushing ICE to arrest and detain people it would have released a few years back.

John R. Sandweg, who served as acting ICE director during the Obama administration, said the Trump administration should be able to keep all the high-priority detainees in custody even with a 16,500-bed limit.

“The problem would be, though, how you define public safety threat,” he said.

He agreed with Mr. Albence that 90 percent of ICE’s interior arrests are coming from the criminal justice system, meaning they have either convictions or pending charges.

But he said that doesn’t mean they are dangers to the community.

“The notion that presupposes they’re an unmanageable public safety risk that must be detained pending removal, that’s just not the case,” he said.

He said other options such as ankle monitoring or even telephone check-ins can ensure migrants show up for their immigration-court hearings, and he said those who don’t are “easy to find” in the community.

ICE officials, though, say there’s already a backlog of nearly 1 million people on their docket who’ve been released, and the agency doesn’t have the staffing to go after them.

“Detention is the only proven effective method to ensure an individual ordered removed is actually removed,” Mr. Albence said.

Mr. Sandweg said that’s true — but it doesn’t have to be that way.

He said the reason ICE wants to hold people is because those who are detained go through courts faster.

Meanwhile those released into communities can take years to have a hearing, much less be deported.

He said the solution should instead be to find a way to speed up the hearings.

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