DHS, in fact, has little control over the overall number of people who can be physically held pending removal or deportation hearings ? because it has very few places to hold them: Only 19,400 beds for the entire country (down from 23,000 just last year).
Congress thought it had solved this problem. Last year?s intelligence bill called for 40,000 new beds ? 8,000 per year from 2006 through 2010. Lawmakers also authorized adding 800 agents for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the DHS agency with the sole authority for detaining illegals.
When President Bush put forward his budget this year, however, both items got the shaft. Bush?s spending blueprint calls for only 1,920 new beds and just 143 additional ICE agents ? a fifth of what Congress dictated.
ICE?s budget woes are not unknown. Last summer, Government Executive ran a story about how the agency?s financial shortfalls were leading to the release of criminal illegal aliens. The article quoted an ICE official who wrote in an internal agency e-mail, ?Here it is in a nutshell . . . We are BROKE.?
?Catch and release? (as Border Patrol agents call it) has become commonplace. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the homeland security Appropriations subcommittee, says, ?There [are] roughly 465,000 absconders . . . [and] 45,000 of those are criminals.? One Congressional official places the latter figure at 90,000.
The department needs hundreds more immigration-enforcement agents and thousands more detention beds ? to arrest and then detain illegals ?who are subject to an ongoing national-security investigation? or who ?raise a national security concern.?
Which means, first and foremost, a change in spending priorities. What kind of ?homeland security? is it when money is going to ?first responders? in Vermont and South Dakota and not for detaining suspected terrorists?
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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