DHS released 1,100 detained felons in December

The Department of Homeland Security released more than 1,100 illegal immigrants with criminal records from their detention centers in December as it sought to accommodate a border surge that never materialized.

Deportation officers had said they were being told to stop making arrests and clear the space for the expected impact of changing a pandemic border policy. The new data, released earlier this month by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, shows the extent of the movements.

ICE said it has released 515 migrants with criminal convictions and another 641 facing active criminal charges.

Officials said the releases were tied to the Title 42 pandemic border policy, which under a court order was supposed to go away just before Christmas. Homeland Security said record levels of border chaos could triple and that they were clearing space from ICE facilities to try to contain some of the most egregious border cases.

But the Supreme Court ordered that Title 42 remain in effect while it hears arguments. So while the border experienced a surge in illegal crossings, the catastrophic surge did not materialize.

That made the releases even more aggravating, said RJ Hauman, head of government relations for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

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“What they did in December in anticipation of the Title 42 ruling that never came was another act of enforcement theatrics that jeopardizes public safety and the integrity of our system,” Mr. Hauman told The Washington Times.

Holding illegal immigrants pending deportation is supposed to be the norm, particularly for those caught at the border.

But the size of the border chaos and the Biden administration’s antipathy to detention mean the beds go unused even as the administration releases people into the country.

Offenders were just a fraction of the December releases, which numbered 20,279. That was more than 80% compared to the average for October and November.

With those releases, ICE was using just over 20,000 detention beds as of early January, despite being funded for an average of 34,000 beds on any given day.

As of this week, ICE had 23,030 people in custody, which is still almost 11,000 below daily capacity.

ICE did not respond to a query about this story.

Tom Homan, who headed ICE during the early part of the Trump administration, told The Times that all detention decisions are now made by a political appointee, not career staff.

Homan said the designee is trying to push people toward release rather than detention.

“The sad thing is this: there are a lot of empty beds sitting empty already paid for,” he said.

He said that part of this appears to be about diverting money to groups that are friends with the Biden team. That includes nongovernmental organizations that the government pays to help settle released immigrants in new communities, and for-profit companies that oversee monitoring programs that track some of the released immigrants through phone checks.

Mr. Homan said that detention is the crux of execution. If illegal immigrants can be detained, they can be deported. But if they are released, the vast majority end up staying, either delaying their court cases or ignoring deportation orders once issued.

“They are looking forward to the next amnesty deal,” Homan said.

ICE has two different types of release from detention. One is the bond, which can be done by a judge or by ICE. The other is a discretionary release by ICE, which can be done through an acknowledgment order, an order of supervision, or through the parole power of the secretary of Homeland Security.

Felon bond releases were up just 10% in December, while ICE felon discretionary releases were up 66%.

That came to 1,156 total criminal releases, 515 of them with convictions and the other 641 with pending charges.

ICE records do not detail the types of crimes involved.

In addition to releasing criminals, ICE has also stopped pursuing new targets in the field.

An ICE official said his region was instructed not to make new arrests because there was no room to put them.

The result is that ICE officers booked just 5,950 people in December, up from about 6,500 in October and November, according to data maintained by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

In the Trump years, before the pandemic, ICE regularly booked twice that number per month.

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