Immigration laws without enforcement are useless

OPINION:

President Biden is committed to dismantling immigration enforcement, a fact that is supported by his administration’s own data. In the same year that we had 1.7 million illegal aliens enter the country illegally, a record, Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed about 59,000. What makes 59,000 even more shameful for Mr. Biden is that almost half that number were removed in the last three months of the Trump administration.

This year we should expect over 2.3 million illegal entries, as the 2 million mark was reached in September. That will be nearly 4 million illegal crossings in Mr. Biden’s first two years, and ICE removal numbers are still dismal. That is not because ICE doesn’t want to do their job, but because the Biden administration, including Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, will not let them do it.

The most recent action that this administration has taken to push removals even lower is an $80 million contract that amounts to catch-and-release. The contract for monitoring young adult illegal immigrants explicitly prohibits any GPS monitoring or tracking, and the compliance measure meant to keep migrants in touch with the government is a simple phone call check-in each month. The contract even calls for working with nonprofits that provide “trauma-informed care.”

This is a major departure from previous successful programs to monitor illegal immigrants in the country and to make sure they show up for court appearances and immigration proceedings. It also reflects calls by progressive activists for programs to outlaw ICE’s ability to keep track of migrants that arrive illegally.

ICE’s non-detained docket — meaning all noncitizens who were released from custody with final orders of removal as well as noncitizens who have been released and are awaiting proceedings before an immigration court hearing — has ballooned to more than 3.7 million individuals. NBC estimates that 8,000 migrants are illegally crossing the border each day.

Even if this administration were willing to enforce our immigration laws and secure the border, the government doesn’t have the resources to detain and swiftly deport the millions crossing each year. Congress is giving ICE the funds for 25,000 detention beds in 2023 while over 150,000 illegal migrants are encountered on the border every month.

So, despite criticism from some conservatives, alternatives to detention are necessary in order to keep track of all those entering our country illegally each day. ICE has not received the funding necessary to detain even a sizable fraction of the illegal immigrant population. Why? Because the Biden administration failed to prepare for the onslaught of crossings we have seen since Mr. Biden took office, or perhaps this was all by design.

What is an effective alternative to detention? The Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP) allows ICE to keep track of migrants and make sure they show up for court dates to receive final orders of removal. ISAP uses GPS monitoring, biometric verification technology and home visits to do this, coupled with strong compliance requirements.

Contrary to ISAP, Mr. Biden‘s newest $80 million contract takes us in the opposite direction, funding weak alternative programs with no accountability, when we should be continuing law enforcement-based alternatives under an all-of-the-above approach to arming ICE with the tools it needs to enforce our immigration laws.

The latest statistics show that 316,700 migrants are enrolled in alternatives to detention program. The rest, over 3 million, are not subject to any enhanced supervision.

Migrants who are not properly monitored are more likely to abscond and not show up in court. Analysis has shown that migrants enrolled in ISAP comply with scheduled court dates. The Government Accountability Office found that participants whose court appearances were monitored attended 99% of court hearings between 2015 and 2020. It is at these court hearings that the illegal immigrants can receive a final order of removal enabling detention and deportation and taking away any excuse for them to appeal by reason of never receiving removal papers — a common occurrence.

When migrants are accounted for with technology, it gets results. When ICE chooses to take them out of the program, something else likely happens. So, by its own logic, ICE should keep migrants in the program for the full life cycle of their proceedings to maximize effectiveness in enforcement.

On his first day in office, Mr. Biden set the tone with a moratorium on deportation. He has governed for “Abolish ICE” activists and not U.S. citizens. These activists want illegal immigrants free in the country without any monitoring, supported by taxpayer-funded social programs.

Anti-borders politicians and activists are hoping to replace effective electronic monitoring, which they ridiculously describe as “digital prisons,” with “community-based” solutions run by nonprofit organizations. This is a recipe for disaster.

Those who support border security should not let perfect be the enemy of good. We need a comprehensive approach for ICE to do its job, and this includes detention, tracking and deportation. Detention has and should always be the best option used to ensure aliens get due process, actually see a judge, and have that decision by the judge carried out. Without enough detention beds available, however, electronic monitoring is the next best option. Past success shows us that we need both.

As long as ICE is unable to quickly detain and deport the volume of illegal immigrants we are seeing annually, which is the foreseeable future thanks to the Biden administration, enforcement-driven monitoring programs using technology and proper supervision are necessary.

This is especially important given that data available from our immigration courts shows that nearly 9 out of 10 Central Americans that claim asylum never get relief from U.S. courts because they either don’t file a case as required, don’t show up or don’t qualify. 

This administration knows this, and they are attempting to ensure that asylum-seekers who lose their cases never get removed. The system doesn’t work unless we are able to execute a judge’s decision. Due process at great taxpayer expense works only if the decision of the court is acted on.

• Tom Homan is a senior fellow at the Immigration Reform Law Institute and the former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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