Amid rush to re­lease fam­i­lies, 40% of de­ten­tion beds un­used Gov­ern­ment con­trac­tor gets flat rate re­gard­less of va­can­cies

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY STEPHEN DINAN

The gov­ern­ment pays for thou­sands of de­ten­tion beds for il­le­gal im­mi­grant fam­i­lies, but nearly 40 per­cent of them were sit­ting un­used in late June, even as the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity was rush­ing to re­lease par­ents and chil­dren into com­mu­ni­ties.

The empty beds were re­vealed in court doc­u­ments late last month. Lawyers who mon­i­tor U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment’s fa­cil­i­ties said two ma­jor fa­cil­i­ties were run­ning well below ca­pac­ity.

ICE’s big­gest fa­cil­ity in Dil­ley, Texas, can hold 2,400 par­ents and chil­dren — but on June 27 and 28 it was at just 63 per­cent ca­pac­ity, with 886 beds empty, the de­tainee logs showed.

Al­though the beds were empty, the gov­ern­ment was still pay­ing for them.

The con­trac­tor who op­er­ates Dil­ley “is paid a flat rate of $3.1 mil­lion per month to op­er­ate the fa­cil­ity re­gard­less of the num­ber of res­i­dents, which means that the gov­ern­ment saves no money in re­duc­ing the num­ber of fam­i­lies pro­cessed at the fa­cil­ity,” Wendi War­ren H. Bin­ford, a law pro­fes­sor at Wil­lamette Univer­sity in Ore­gon, wrote in a sworn dec­la­ra­tion to a fed­eral court two weeks ago.

The va­can­cies are the lat­est per­plex­ing facet of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy, which, while tak­ing a get-tough ap­proach rhetor­i­cally, has been plagued by ques­tion­able de­ci­sions, pol­icy re­ver­sals and con­fu­sion.

“It’s a mys­tery why they would not want to use this space avail­able,” said Jes­sica Vaughan, pol­icy stud­ies di­rec­tor at the Cen­ter for Im­mi­gra­tion Stud­ies, which ad­vo­cates for stricter en­force­ment. “If they have the de­ten­tion ca­pac­ity, they should be us­ing it.”

The space is about to be­come even more im­por­tant.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is rush­ing to re­unite as many as 2,500 more chil­dren who were sep­a­rated from their par­ents in the con­fu­sion sur­round­ing the pres­i­dent’s zero-tol­er­ance bor­der pol­icy.

The gov­ern­ment re­leased more than 50 young chil­dren and their par­ents af­ter re­unit­ing them last week. They were put into an “Al­ter­na­tives to De­ten­tion” pro­gram, which usu­ally means ei­ther an ankle mon­i­tor­ing de­vice or a pro­gram of check­ins de­signed to make sure they re­turn for their de­por­ta­tion hear­ings.

That of­ten doesn’t hap­pen, said of­fi­cials with U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment.

“That is not an ef­fec­tive re­moval tool,” Matthew Al­bence, a top de­por­ta­tion of­fi­cial, told re­porters this month.

Se­cu­rity an­a­lysts say de­ten­tion is the best way to en­sure peo­ple ap­pear for their court cases and de­por­ta­tion times.

ICE said it couldn’t com­ment on the empty beds be­cause the in­for­ma­tion was filed as part of a se­ries of on­go­ing court cases. But one Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cial in­di­cated they be­lieve their hands are tied by a court case, the Flores set­tle­ment.

“We are in com­pli­ance with the court or­der,” the of­fi­cial said.

That 1997 Flores set­tle­ment, which orig­i­nally re­quired the speedy re­lease of chil­dren who ar­rived at the bor­der alone, was up­dated by Judge Dolly Gee in 2015 to ap­ply to chil­dren who come with their par­ents. Un­der the new rules, chil­dren can be held in ICE cus­tody for only about 20 days.

Since de­por­ta­tion cases usu­ally take longer than that, the 20-day dead­line means the chil­dren have to be re­leased into com­mu­ni­ties. The gov­ern­ment usu­ally wants to place chil­dren with par­ents, so it releases the en­tire fam­ily.

Pres­i­dent Trump or­dered his at­tor­neys to chal­lenge the Flores set­tle­ment and ask Judge Gee for a re­think.

Those lawyers told Judge Gee that they be­lieve a rul­ing by an­other fed­eral court, Judge Dana Sabraw, who set time­lines for re­uni­fi­ca­tion of fam­i­lies, en­vi­sions fam­i­lies be­ing de­tained to­gether, even be­yond 20 days. The ad­min­is­tra­tion said that is what it in­tends to do.

“The gov­ern­ment will not sep­a­rate fam­i­lies but de­tain fam­i­lies to­gether dur­ing the pen­dency of im­mi­gra­tion pro­ceed­ings when they are ap­pre­hended at or be­tween ports of en­try,” the Jus­tice Depart­ment said in late June.

Judge Gee re­jected those ar­gu­ments and said her 20-day guide­lines re­main in ef­fect.

That leaves the gov­ern­ment strug­gling to adopt the strictest pol­icy pos­si­ble within the guide­lines set by myr­iad judges.

Peter Schey, the lawyer rep­re­sent­ing the chil­dren in the Flores set­tle­ment, said the un­used space sug­gests that the gov­ern­ment is wrongly claim­ing an il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion cri­sis. He ques­tioned the terms of the con­tract that pays out re­gard­less of how much space the gov­ern­ment is us­ing.

“It is shame­ful that ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions are reap­ing mas­sive prof­its op­er­at­ing fam­ily de­ten­tion cen­ters and be­ing paid tens of mil­lions of dol­lars re­gard­less of the num­ber of fam­i­lies ac­tu­ally housed and ser­viced in these fa­cil­i­ties,” Mr. Schey said.

He said the ad­min­is­tra­tion could end the con­tracts and in­stead use group homes that have been li­censed by the fed­eral Hous­ing and Ur­ban Af­fairs Depart­ment and lo­cal govern­ments.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion runs three fam­ily de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties, to­tal­ing 3,326 beds, ac­cord­ing to a Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice re­port this year.

The fa­cil­ity in Dil­ley is the big­gest at 2,400 beds, fol­lowed by an­other Texas fa­cil­ity in Karnes. A third, small fa­cil­ity in Penn­syl­va­nia, the Berks Fam­ily Res­i­den­tial Cen­ter, has fewer than 100 beds.

For years, the gov­ern­ment had only Berks, but when the num­ber of il­le­gal im­mi­grant chil­dren and fam­i­lies surged in 2014, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion scram­bled to open the other two fa­cil­i­ties in Texas.

The fa­cil­i­ties have been a tar­get for im­mi­grant rights ac­tivists who op­pose de­ten­tion of most il­le­gal im­mi­grants, and of fam­i­lies in par­tic­u­lar. The gov­ern­ment’s chief watchdog, the GAO, ques­tioned the gov­ern­ment’s bud­get­ing de­ci­sions in its re­port this year.

The Dil­ley fa­cil­ity’s con­tract nears $40 mil­lion a year.

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