Chairwoman Roybal-Allard Statement on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Budget Request at DHS Appropriations Hearing
House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40) led the subcommittee’s hearing today about the fiscal year 2021 budget request for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The witness was ICE Acting Director Matthew Albence.
The chairwoman’s opening statement is below.
Today, we welcome Matthew Albence, the Acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Thank you for being here this morning.
As you are aware, we continue to monitor the situation on the southern border and the impact it has on ICE’s resources. We look forward to hearing your perspective on ICE’s operations and the funding priorities you have for the agency.
As Chair of this Subcommittee, my priorities are to ensure the integrity of our borders and our immigration system, but also to ensure we are appropriately balancing all our legal responsibilities in a way that exemplifies our American values.
As I told the Secretary, I believe the Administration has erred exclusively and determinedly on the side of enforcement and removal to the detriment of the due process rights of migrants – particularly asylum seekers – and the humane treatment of anyone within DHS’s custody. I believe it is critical that we protect those fleeing violence and persecution and ensure they have meaningful opportunities to seek asylum or other forms of protection, in accordance with our laws and values.
I believe we must take corrective actions to get this balance right.
Mr. Albence, I know we likely disagree on whether the Administration’s immigration policies strike the right balance, but it is my hope that you will work with this Subcommittee to:
• Improve the conditions within your facilities to ensure individuals in your custody are treated with dignity and respect;
• Follow congressional intent on the use of appropriated funds;
• Correct due process deficiencies that make it increasingly difficult for immigrants navigating our immigration system;
• Respect the rights of asylum seekers; and
• Prevent immigration enforcement activities from having a chilling effect on the willingness of immigrants to interact with their local law enforcement agencies.
These are important, because from my perspective, the basic fault of the current approach is that immigrants in removal proceedings are too often treated like criminals.
Those in detention are held in facilities that can only be described as penal. In many cases they are held in prison cells or local jails – even though immigration detention is supposed to be civil detention.
Whether or not they are in violation of immigration law, they are not criminals. Even those ICE categorizes as “criminal aliens” have paid their debt to society by completing any sentence imposed on them in a court of law.
Unfortunately, the rhetoric and the policies of this Administration continue to make it difficult to achieve the right balance between enforcement and due process, between security and humane treatment, because they have instilled fear in my community and across the nation. I hear repeatedly of families afraid to go to work; of Dreamers who live with anxiety about their future in the only country they know to be their home; and of elementary school teachers who state their young students exhibit signs of PTSD because they are afraid that one day they will come home to an empty home.
By all indications, the Administration has exacerbated our challenges in the interior, and especially at the border, where they have put the lives and wellbeing of thousands of migrants at risk.
We must also be mindful of the resource limitations we face. The fiscal year 2021 budget request for the Department included several holes that we will need to fill, such as an assumption of $600 million in savings from a TSA passenger security fee increase that will almost certainly not be authorized.
Detention is a very expensive option to taxpayers. It should be reserved for cases where public safety or flight risk is a valid concern based on an individualized analysis.
When public safety is not a concern, ICE should consider alternatives to detention. When used as intended, with appropriate case management support, alternatives to detention have proven to be effective in mitigating flight risk and improving compliance with immigration court requirements.
For example, the Family Case Management Program had an extremely high rate of compliance before it was terminated. More than 99% of participants attended their required check-in appointments and immigration court hearings.
The Alternatives to Detention program, however, does have room for improvement. That is why we included funding in the fiscal year 2020 appropriation for an independent study to develop recommendations on a path forward. Nevertheless, improving ATD’s effectiveness will also require a commitment from ICE, which I hope I can count on you for.
For those in detention, I remain seriously concerned about substandard conditions. I am disappointed that progress has not been made – not just under your tenure but well over the last decade or more. The change that is needed requires leadership attention and a will to do better.
Today, we will discuss many pressing challenges and problems. Consequently, it is important to note that any policy disagreements we may have with this Administration is in no way intended to vilify the ICE workforce. Therefore, I want to recognize the dedication and commitment of the ICE women and men who carry out the agency’s varied missions every day with dedication and in good faith.
The subcommittee will continue to work with you to ensure they have the resources and oversight needed to carry out their missions effectively, safely, responsibly, lawfully, and humanely. We have always endeavored to work collaboratively with you to fix problems where needed, and we will continue to do so, hopefully with your partnership.