While the Biden administration continues to open convention centers, military bases and other ‘influx’ locations for a surge of migrant children and families, taxpayers pay up to a million dollars a day for empty detention beds that could otherwise be filled.
The administration currently has in custody some 19,000 unaccompanied children and it released almost 60% of migrant families encountered at the border in February. Yet Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) pays for thousands of empty beds for migrant adults and families.
In 2019, ICE had 56,000 migrants in detention and currently pays for 29,000 adult beds. As of last week, ICE’s average daily adult population was 14,134. At an average contract rate of $75 a day, the agency was paying $1,125,000 a day to maintain empty beds.
By contrast, HHS spends more than $800 a day on roughly migrant beds. Based on that number, the Biden Administration’s HHS is spending $10.6 million to house migrant children it doesn’t have to. In January, a federal appeals court ruled that the U.S. government can expel immigrant children who cross the border unaccompanied by a parent. The Biden administration however has chosen not to return children and teenagers to their home country.
“We have a number of unaccompanied minors, children who are coming into the country without their families. What we are not doing, what the last administration did was separate those kids, rip them from the arms of their parents at the border. We are not doing that. That is immoral, and that is not the approach of this administration, ” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in February.
CBP, HHS and FEMA all refused to disclose to Fox News how much it spends on emergency beds in the San Diego, Houston and Dallas convention centers.
The sharp decline in ICE detentions is caused by two factors: COVID-19 and a shift in priorities away from enforcement. ICE arrests declined by 65% in March compared with at the end of the Trump administration. The agency initiated most of those releases to reduce the threat of infection to inmates and guards. By judges also ordered the release of 3,700 inmates — 1,800 of whom were charged with or convicted of crimes, including homicide, assault, child abuse, domestic violence, rape, multiple DUIs, fraud, kidnapping, sexual abuse of a child and more.
“That’s who’s in custody. When you’re telling them to release them, it’s it’s not some hapless individual who got arrested by ICE for a broken taillight. Those are not the cases in custody. It’s the most egregious cases that ICE is being forced to release,” said Jessica Vaughn, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies. “Their case load of criminal aliens in detention is always the worst of the worst. And that’s why when you look at the criminal histories of the people who were held in custody and released, it’s shocking that people were released who had homicide convictions, rape, DUI, domestic violence, every crime on the books.
According to a Rand Institute study, 35 to 43% will reoffend in the first year after their release. ICE refused to release a rate of recidivism, but admits many of those it released “have extensive criminal histories and pose a potential public safety threat”. In 2020, the average person arrested by ICE had four criminal convictions.
In Los Angeles, a judge ordered ICE to release 250 inmates — including a 50-year-old Indian national who now stands trial in California for “lewd and lascivious” assault of a minor. And a 34-year-old Mexican man who’s been in and out jail several times and is now charged with stealing property and illegally possessing a loaded gun.
ICE tried to reduce the flight risk of those released using alternatives to detention, like ankle bracelets. Of 225,000 inmates being actively monitored, just 1% were found and removed — at a cost of $75,000 per deportation, according to congressional testimony from then-ICE director Matt Albence in September 2018.
ICE says keeping beds unoccupied is not unusual among federal agencies, which contract a year in advance to get the lowest rate. Unused beds remains especially high this year officials say because the COVID risk remains high.
Activists say the Biden administration’s restrictions on ICE don’t go far enough. “Let us be clear: No one should be in ICE custody,” says Silky Shah of the Detention Watch Network. “ICE is a deadly and abusive agency, rooted in white supremacy. ICE should never be tasked with a person’s care.”