Originally published by The Hill
Last week, 83 members of Congress signed onto a letter announcing a shift in policy not only to stop bankrolling Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s unrelenting requests for funding increases, but also to look at ways to defund ICE, one of our government’s most bloated and overwrought agencies when it comes to a lack of accountability, transparency or integrity in spending precious tax dollars. This brings to tally of federal lawmakers on the record making this demand to 100.
Publicly, leaders on both sides of the aisle are all too eager to carry the mantle of fiscal responsibility and bring what they tout as business-inspired efficiency to running government. But when it comes to applying commonsense standards of ethics and accountability (or even basic human decency), perhaps no government agency is more fraught with neglect than ICE.
In recent years, ICE has spent through its budget with impunity, acting as though it is funded by an “indefinite appropriation” — only to call on Congress mid-cycle for a bailout. Last spring, one such request resulted in $2.6 billion for ICE to increase immigrant detention capacity, followed by another bailout request three months later for an additional $91 million. Congress has gone so far as to call ICE’s forecasting calculations for population and bed counts “not based on a validated cost estimation methodology,” and stated that ICE’s forecasting had “missed the mark by wide margins” for several years.
It sounds like ICE makes up the numbers it reports to Congress. The president’s recently-released budget calculated the number of detention beds “needed” based on a rigorous predictive model but included two different numbers, $2.5 billion to detain 47,000 people per day and $2.7 billion to detain 52,000 people per day.
Even the Office of Inspector General (OIG) attests to ICE’s sloppy business practices, especially in its execution of contracts enabling ICE agents to contract through local governments. In a memo last month, OIG stated: “ICE’s policies and procedures for negotiating, executing and modifying [Intergovernmental Service Agreements] are insufficient and lack specific guidance for the appropriate use of IGSAs. … ICE has no assurance that it executed detention center contracts in the best interest of the Federal Government, taxpayers or detainees.”
With this documented malfeasance, one would rightly hope for greater accountability and oversight by Congress. Taxpayers would expect the self-proclaimed fiscal hawks to be outraged at such gross mismanagement. Instead, Congress has practically rubber-stamped every request for additional resources ICE has made while turning a blind eye to the gross human rights abuses perpetrated by the agency.
Such complacency appears to have emboldened ICE to retaliate against immigrant rights activists, who advocate on behalf of themselves and their communities and speak out against ICE’s unjust practices.
If we need fresh examples of ICE human rights violations, we need only to look back to last month. That’s when Laura Monterrosa, a woman who accused a guard of sexually abusing her last fall in Hutto Detention Center in Texas, was locked in solitary confinement for 60 hours and told she wouldn’t be released until she recanted her sexual assault complaint.
Also that month, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of Jesus Chavez Flores, who protested in a hunger strike at the Northwest Detention Center in Washington State, giving an account of an ICE agent’s assault against Chavez without provocation. Chavez has been placed in solitary confinement since Feb. 10, where he spends 23 hours a day alone; he is allowed to shower three times each week.
A federal lawsuit also was filed by immigrant rights leader Ravi Ragbir in New York, whose deportation the government has agreed to staytemporarily. In Seattle, United Nations human rights experts are asking the government to protect immigrant-rights advocate Maru Mora-Villalpando. The pending deportation of Alejandra Pablos, who is being held in Arizona, has drawn national attention. The list goes on.
This type of aggressive behavior against advocates who stand up for themselves and their communities threatens the basic tenets of our democracy. Aside from critiques of its anti-immigrant ethos, ICE also must be held accountable by Congress for its apparent mismanagement.
But you don’t have to take the word of immigrant rights advocates. Last week, James Schwab resigned from his post as ICE spokesperson, saying: “I quit because I didn’t want to perpetuate misleading facts.” It’s time for Congress to follow Schwab’s lead and respond to ICE’s outright deception by turning back the tide of reckless spending.
Mary Small is public policy director for Detention Watch Network, a national coalition of organizations working to expose injustices of the U.S. immigration detention and deportation system.