DHS IOG reports finds execution of alien releases to be “problematic”

dhs-oig-reportOn Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General released a report requested by senators Tom Coburn, and John McCain. The OIG reviewed the Department’s action related to the immigration detainee budgetary releases.

The Department reviewed: (1) the circumstances of and reasons for the release of the detainees, including how much money ICE or DHS thought it would save through the release; (2) the selection criteria and process used to identify detention centers and detainees for the release, including the specific criminal background of each detainee released; (3) whether ICE accurately applied its selection criteria and processes to the
immigration detainee population; and (4) whether ICE received guidance or directives about the timing or nature of the release from the Executive Office of the President.

The Executive Summary reads:

In February and March 2013, media sources reported U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released hundreds of immigration detainees, including detainees with criminal convictions. The publicized releases occurred the weekend before sequestration went into effect on March 1, 2013, generating speculation that the releases were improperly motivated.

We determined that the following factors influenced ICE’s decision to release 2,226 immigration detainees between February 9 and March 1, 2013: 

The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act (P.L. 113‐6) requires ICE to maintain an average daily population of 34,000 detainees and expects ICE to fund detention at this level. Congressional appropriations cover approximately 31,300 of those beds. ICE secures the remaining funding from fluctuating revenue sources or by transferring funding from other programs. This funding structure leaves ICE with inadequate resources when there is an increase in detainees. 

From fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2012, total apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley increased from approximately 59,000 to 98,000, or 66 percent. Accordingly, ICE started fiscal year 2013 with an average daily population of 35,610 in its immigration detention facilities. 

During fiscal year 2013, ICE faced reductions as a result of being funded through a continuing resolution based on prior years’ funding and the impending sequestration budget cuts. In addition, funding typically used to cover the shortfall—breached immigration bonds and user fees—collected in fiscal year 2013 were lower than ICE’s projection. However, ICE did not develop contingency plans to address the budget shortfall. 

When ICE’s budgetary shortfall became apparent in January 2013, ICE leadership assumed it would be able to manage the shortfall by reducing the number of detained aliens. ICE’s Chief Financial Officer decided to cover part of the shortfall through a sharp and immediate reduction in detention bed space. 

Only after House appropriations staff informed ICE’s Chief Financial Officer on January 31, 2013, that maintaining 34,000 average daily population is a statutory requirement did ICE executive leadership realize ICE would need to obtain additional funding to cover the detention budget shortfall.

Of the 2,226 budgetary releases reported to Congress, ICE released approximately 1,450 immigration detainees over the weekend of
February 23, 2013.

The execution of the releases was problematic as well. Insufficient ICE executive leadership planning and limited engagement with its Enforcement and Removal Operations field offices contributed to the timing and number of alien releases. Prior to the detainee releases, ICE executive leadership did not communicate effectively with Enforcement and Removal Operations, and did not inform Department of Homeland Security (DHS) leadership or the Executive Office of the President about the budget shortfall. In addition, ICE did not notify DHS’ Secretary about plans to release aliens as a remedy for the budget shortfall.

Between February 9 and March 1, 2013, Enforcement and Removal Operations field offices released some aliens with criminal convictions whose detention was statutorily required. However, field offices did not release aliens they considered a danger to the community. Given the short timeframe of the releases and the mandate from ICE headquarters to do so, Enforcement and Removal Operations Field Office Directors applied selection criteria and processes appropriately. Enforcement and Removal Operations officers reviewed their own detained alien dockets to determine the best candidates for release. Enforcement and Removal Operations supervisory field officers reviewed each release recommendation.

Since the February 2013 budget releases, ICE has not developed an effective strategy to manage its detention budget. We determined ICE senior leadership continues to manage detention bed space and the budget from headquarters and provides field offices with fluctuating average daily population guidance. To manage detention bed space more effectively, ICE must develop a transparent budget process, delegate detention management functions to field offices, and engage Congress to fund detention bed space fully with multiple year or no year appropriations. We are making four recommendations to improve ICE detention management.

To read the DHS OIG report click here.