The administration plans to seek funding for 25,000 beds, down from the 34,000 beds that are currently funded. It also severed a contract with a detention facility in Alabama.
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Demonstrators in Long Beach, Calif., last year. Reducing the number of detention beds could be seen as a peace offering to immigration advocates who have been critical of the Biden administration.
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is looking to cut more than 25 percent of the bed capacity at immigration detention facilities in its budget request for the next fiscal year, the latest indication that the government is shifting from incarcerating undocumented immigrants to using ankle-monitoring devices and other alternatives.
On Friday, the administration announced that Immigration and Customs Enforcement was ending a contract with a facility that holds immigrants and reducing its use of three others. All four detention facilities have been criticized for having poor living conditions.
An official familiar with a draft of the budget plan described details of the funding request on the condition of anonymity ahead of President Biden’s release of the plan on Monday. According to the draft, the request would be for a total of 25,000 immigration detention beds. Congress funded 34,000 beds for the current fiscal year, which runs through September, a number consistent with spending during the Trump administration.
The Biden administration quietly ended the practice of detaining immigrant families this year, continuing the practice only for single adults.
Reducing the number of detention beds as a matter of policy, and making good on promises to hold detention facilities to higher standards of care, could be seen as a peace offering to immigration advocates who have been critical of the progress Mr. Biden has made in fulfilling his campaign promises on immigration.
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In recent weeks, members of Mr. Biden’s own party, including Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, have condemned the administration’s continued use of a public health rule that has limited immigration during the coronavirus pandemic.
“That’s a great step forward,” Kerri Talbot, the deputy director for the Immigration Hub, an advocacy group, said of the upcoming request for 9,000 fewer detention beds. She said the plan to sever ties with one local jail and reduce the government’s reliance on three others was good news as well.
The administration said it would stop using beds at the Etowah County Jail in Gadsden, Ala. It will also reduce the number of beds it pays for at the Alamance County Detention Center in Graham, N.C.; the Glades County Detention Center in Moore Haven, Fla.; and Winn Correctional Center in Winnfield, La. Problems with the facilities, which also hold nonimmigrant inmates, include poor medical treatment, lack of access to outdoor areas, bug infestations and other inhumane conditions.
Last year, the Biden administration cut ties with two other facilities, the C. Carlos Carreiro Immigration Detention Center in Dartmouth, Mass., and the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Ga.
Because of the pandemic, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has used only a fraction of its available beds for immigration detention. There have been public health concerns about spreading the coronavirus in congregate settings, and currently only about 60 percent of the beds the agency is paying for are in use.
The number of undocumented migrants crossing the southwest border has increased sharply during Mr. Biden’s presidency, and his administration has increasingly turned to alternatives to detention, including ankle monitors, a smartphone application with facial recognition technology and phones that undocumented immigrants awaiting court proceedings can use to check in with immigration authorities.
As of Friday, more than 200,000 immigrants were equipped with one of these monitoring devices, according to internal data. That is more than double the number of such devices that Immigration and Customs Enforcement was using a year ago. Congress recently gave the agency more than $440 million for alternatives to detention for the current fiscal year, and the agency is testing a home confinement program that is expected to go nationwide this summer.
Republicans have hammered the Biden administration for releasing so many migrants into the country to await deportation proceedings, a practice referred to derogatively as “catch and release.” The concern has long been that such immigrants will not appear in court and will instead disappear into the country like millions of other undocumented immigrants.
The situation on the southwest border, where about 13,000 undocumented migrants have been apprehended each day in recent weeks, has proved fertile for Republican attacks on the administration. Many Republicans were outraged by the drop in Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests and deportations in 2021 compared with the prior year, the details of which were disclosed in a recent report from the agency.
Deportations declined last year partly because officials have been expelling migrants under a special pandemic law, and those expulsions do not get counted as deportations. But other enforcement actions inside the country declined as well because of revised priorities under Mr. Biden and staffing shortages.
“In a year where there have been record highs of illegal border crossings, we shouldn’t have a record low in arrests and deportations,” Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, wrote on Twitter after the report was released.
Alternatives to detention are not widely embraced by either Republicans or immigration advocates. For Republicans, detained immigrants are much easier to deport than those who are not in detention, regardless of whether they are wearing ankle monitors.
And many liberals see the proliferation of these devices as an enormous surveillance operation.
“We cannot swap physical cages for virtual ones and expect different results from a system that criminalizes immigrants at every turn,” Carl Hamad-Lipscombe, the executive director of Envision Freedom Fund, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit and bail fund. “Immigrants need to be free to be reunited with their families and access the resources they need to live their lives while their immigration cases continue.”