No Room at the Inn: A return to ‘Catch-and-Release’



A renewed surge of illegal southern border crossings has filled federal detention centers and triggered a return to Obama-era catch-and-release policies in Texas.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement office is San Antonio said it is refusing to take any families the Border Patrol apprehends and will soon reject unaccompanied migrants. ICE’s El Paso office told agents it also was at capacity and was refusing family units.

With apprehensions climbing steadily over the summer, ICE says it needs five new detention centers immediately. The agency recently contracted with the GEO Group to build a 1,000-bed facility north of Houston. Price tag: $110 million.

ICE spends more than $2 billion a year on immigrant detention at private jails, which house roughly two-thirds of the detainees. FAIR found that overall detention spending, split among several Homeland Security agencies, runs billions more.

By one estimate, mandatory detention policies could boost costs $900 million a year over the next decade. Current costs per inmate range from $126 to $182 a day.

The costs may seem prohibitive, but paying the bills must not be prohibited. The irresponsible alternative of catch-and-release imposes a cost that’s far too dear. The price tag resulting from our failure to enforce our immigration laws now runs $135 billion annually.

While the Trump administration scrambles to secure more bed space, ICE is freeing detainees with notices to appear. Such notices aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, as immigration courts have the highest failure-to-appear rates in the country.

Tyler Houlton, spokesman at the Department of Homeland Security, said the courts jam up the enforcement system and block deportations. “We are severely constrained by litigation, court rulings and debilitating legal loopholes that limit our ability to carry out our mission,” Houlton complained.

Other problems lurk in-house.

“Obama holdovers are still running the show. We’re putting ourselves right back into the same situation we were under the Obama administration,” said Chris Crane, president of the National ICE Council, which represents deportation officers.

Rigorous immigration enforcement – including incarceration of lawbreakers – isn’t cheap. New immigration judges must be hired and trained to get backlogged courts up to speed. Additional detention facilities will be necessary for at least the immediate future.

The only rational responses to the border surge are the systematic elimination of rewards for entering the U.S. illegally, more apprehensions and detentions – followed by expeditious deportations. Failure to swiftly carry out these responsibilities merely invites more border crashing, ensuring further chaos and still higher costs caused by illegal aliens walking free.

About Author

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Bob Dane, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)’s Executive Director, has been with FAIR since 2006. His deep belief is that immigration is the most transformational determinant of where we are heading as a nation and that our policies must be reformed in the public interest. Over many years on thousands of radio, TV and print interviews, Bob has made the case that unless immigration is regulated and sensibly reduced, it will be difficult for America to reduce unemployment, increase wages, improve health care and education and heighten national security. Prior to joining FAIR, Bob spent twenty years in network radio, marketing and communications after an earlier career in policy and budgeting within the Reagan Administration. Bob has a degree from George Mason University in Public Administration and Management.

4 Comments

  1. avatar
    Shirle Riggs Olivas on

    Strike at root of problem! End Birthright Citizenship. They come to have “anchor babies” who become USA citizens at birth. That allows them to access benefits, food stamps,education, CHIP for all their children (DACAs have had free medical care under this program. ) and many other benefits for US citizens. That is why the term “anchor babies” means it anchors them from breaking up families and enables them to access welfare programs. DACAs have reaped the benefits at tax payers cost. Most have had anchor babies of their own! Doing away with birthright citizenship would save the country billions!!! It is reason the come “for a better life” at our expense. The 14th Amendment was to assure the children of slaves would be citizens. 15th Amendment was for the Native Americans ( Indians on reservations). Neither was meant for anyone whose parents, breaking the law to come in illegally across the border or on a visa, could come into USA and have anchor babies and access benefits at tax payers cost! I bet Supreme Court would rule it so.

  2. avatar

    Whatever it costs to stop catch and release is worth the money. An extremely large percentage of these people end up on all kinds of government assistance and they will be here to stay if not held in custody. All we need is another Democratic president and history repeats itself.

    People who talk about how “expensive” a wall or detention facilities would be, subsequently ignore the immense costs these border jumpers and their children will cost us for many decades.. The story about the 800 illegals working at a Chicago bakery just shows that the numbers of “undocumented” are vastly underestimated. There is never a penalty when they don’t show up for their court hearings, although they seem to find the welfare office just fine.

    • avatar

      Why not take them back to the border and force them back across it? After all they came in from Mexico which profits from allowing the transits coming through. Make it Mexico’s problem too.

    • avatar

      Exactly. This proves that the Wall would be cheaper, in terms of money and American lives saved. The main function of the federal government is to keep its citizens safe and secure. It’s what our taxes are supposed to be for. I don’t feel safe or secure. Does anybody?