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Biden administration's immigrant detention moves highlight strained system

The administration is revamping federal immigration detention and enforcement in an effort to reduce costs across the system and increase capacity to implement President Biden’s new asylum policies.

The shocking cost-cutting plan was announced on Monday, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced the closure of the South Texas Family Residential Center, a decade-old detention facility better known as Dilley.

Advocates have also reported other cost-cutting measures, and are particularly concerned that weekly phone calls that were many detainees’ only connection to the outside world and legal representation are no longer permitted.

It’s unclear whether all of these changes are being driven by the need to expand border detention, but advocates say it’s a distinction without a difference.

“These measures are all part of a rightward shift in immigration policy, both on asylum and on the border and detention, and I think it’s what they think is politically correct, without any consideration for the damage that it’s doing to immigrant communities,” said Naina Gupta, deputy director of policy at the National Center for Immigrant Justice.

“So the question of whether last week’s order is relevant is not really relevant when you look at the pattern that this administration has adopted to employ immigration detention as a way to enforce immigration law and meet a political agenda on immigration,” she added.

The Biden administration’s political challenge on immigration has only grown over the past three years, as its efforts to tighten border controls have been ignored by Republicans and condemned by those on the left.

The Biden administration’s expansion of limited legal entry pathways has similarly been criticized by those on the right as an illegal invitation to foreigners and by immigration advocates as not being enough of a humanitarian safety valve.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters there were no plans to further expand legal pathways through ports of entry because of “operational constraints.”According to NPR’s Sergio Martinez-Beltran:.

But administration officials are pushing to expand ICE’s arrest and detention capabilities.

The move stems from what officials believe is a disconnect between the mission Congress is asking ICE to fulfill and the resources lawmakers are providing.

in Exclusive Interview Speaking on NewsNation’s “Elizabeth Vargas Reports,” ICE Acting Director Patrick Reckleitner said the agency needs to get more funding from Congress.

ICE officials say the agency’s non-detainer list — migrants released to the interior on deferred deportation or with pending cases — has grown to about 7.5 million people.

People on the non-detained list may be required to report to ICE as often as once a year, or they may be subject to alternative-to-detention programs, which in most cases means electronic monitoring through devices such as a bracelet or phone.

Reckleitner complained that ICE has relatively few agents monitoring the group.

“It’s like probation officers are monitoring about 7,000 people. It’s ridiculous. It’s absolutely insane. It’s too big, it’s unbearable,” he told NewsNation. “We don’t have the manpower to make arrests and get people out of this situation.”

NewsNation is owned by Nexstar Media Group, which also owns The Hill.

The complaints go to the heart of a fundamental conflict between the Biden administration and immigrant advocacy groups, who feel threatened by an expansion of the immigration enforcement system.

“The experience of immigrant communities is that the more you grow and expand a punitive immigration enforcement regime, the more permanent that approach to immigration becomes,” Gupta said.

“So these changes, whether they consider them temporary or not, are contributing to a bloated enforcement system that is costing American taxpayers enormous costs, causing irreparable harm to immigrant communities, and doing nothing to actually solve the humanitarian challenges at the border that are facing political pressure,” she added.

And advocates working on the ground at ICE say the agency’s changes are worsening outcomes for foreigners caught up in the system, whether or not they have anything to do with asylum declarations.

In announcing the closure Monday, ICE officials emphasized that Dilley is the most expensive facility in the system and that eliminating the prison will allow ICE to expand its detention system by 1,600 beds.

“They are [detention center operators]”‘Lower costs’? What does that mean? ‘Lower your standard of living,'” said Maru Mora Villalpando, a community activist with La Resistencia, a group that focuses on abuses at the Northwest ICE Processing Center (NWIPC) in Tacoma, Washington.

“Every time someone dies or a medical malpractice case is reported, the first statement we see from ICE is the same: ‘We take the health and well-being of those in our custody very seriously.’ This is a paraphrase, but they always send the same template response, but you see the situation,” Mora-Villalpando continued. “That’s not true. ICE always claims they’re underfunded, then they ask Congress for more funding, then they get more funding.”

She told The Hill that cuts to the free weekly phone line at NWIPC, as well as major cuts to cleaning staff and inmate work programs, have led to a deterioration in sanitary conditions at the facility.

“What ICE under the Biden administration is signaling is that they have the final say when it comes to people’s freedoms, lives and rights, and they are interested in what is most profitable for them, regardless of what fundamental rights might be violated,” Gupta said. “They are willing to cut off detainees’ access to phones to call their loved ones, all in the name of more beds and more detention facilities.”

Advocates not only condemn the situation, but also worry that strict immigration enforcement is becoming the norm.

“Ever since I came to the United States, immigrants have always been the scapegoats, in whatever form. As long as you’re an immigrant and a person of color, you’re the scapegoat. All of the problems [are] “It’s all thanks to you,” Mora Villalpando said.

“It’s all about us. We’re being scapegoated. We’re scapegoating our community. And it’s working,” she continued. “A lot of people who vote actually want to see that, because it’s a lot easier to blame certain communities than it is to actually understand and critically analyze the root causes of a lot of the issues that we have as a country and as a community.”

Gupta added that such political scapegoating is out of character for the Biden administration, which “acts out of fear.”

“If the Biden administration had acted from a place of confidence and strength, rather than fear, it could have enacted policies to defeat Donald Trump without victimizing the most vulnerable, marginalized and powerless communities,” Gupta said. “Bullys victimize the most vulnerable out of fear, and this action is exactly what they have done.”