Senate Bill Would Reduce ICE Detention Beds to 25,000: What Could That Mean for Centers in Louisiana? | New

A homeland security budget proposed by Senate Democrats on Thursday recommends dramatically reducing the number of customs and immigration enforcement detention beds nationwide.

The bill, which was drafted without a bipartisan agreement on funding levels, is unlikely to become law as drafted because there was no Republican buy-in. However, analysts say they could serve as a starting point in negotiations over immigration enforcement policy and spending.

Under the bill — which cuts funding for ICE custody operations by $485 million and its alternatives to detention programs by nearly $98 million — the number of ICE beds would drop from 34,000 to 25,000.

Immigration lawyers and migrant advocacy groups in Louisiana remain skeptical as they fear the 14 facilities under the supervision of ICE’s field office in New Orleans will pay the price for this reduction and become even more more overcrowded.

“Almost every time a detention center has been closed or scaled back in the past 18 months since the Biden administration was sworn in, well, ICE hasn’t released asylum seekers. They just sent them here, to Louisiana or Mississippi,” said Homero Lopez, general counsel for Immigration and Legal Defense Services in New Orleans.

Private prison corporations operating Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities in Louisiana, such as GEO Group and LaSalle Corrections, have for years benefited from a controversial funding mechanism that requires the federal government to pay them a minimum for beds that may not be filled.

According to an analysis by Acadiana Advocate in April, the guaranteed minimum at Louisiana’s ICE detention centers costs US taxpayers an additional $8 million each month.

At Winn Correctional Center, a facility whose use was curtailed by the Biden administration amid reports of filth, abuse and a lack of medical care, an average of 743 people have been detained over the four first months of fiscal year 2022, according to ICE.

The 2022 general budget presented by the Department of Homeland Security shows that the US government paid $95 a day for a guaranteed minimum of 946 detained immigrants. That means the federal government paid about $2.6 million a month to run the Winnfield facility. Without the guaranteed minimum, given the daily population, it would cost $1.9 million.

In Jena, where GEO Group runs the ICE processing center in LaSalle, an average of 418 people were detained in the first four months of fiscal year 2022, according to ICE data.

The contractual agreement ICE signed with GEO Group, referenced in the 2022 budget, shows that the federal government is paying for a guaranteed minimum of 1,170 detained immigrants at a daily rate of $76.64 per bed, which is approximately 2, $7 million per month.

Without a guaranteed minimum, US taxpayers would only pay $961,000, a potential overpayment of $1.8 million per month in this facility alone.

It remains unclear if the funding mechanism will be reviewed by the Department of Homeland Security for the upcoming fiscal year.

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But in the 171 pages of the fiscal year budget 2023, the committee notes that ICE entered into contracts and paid for those contracts using funds appropriated for the prior fiscal year. And it discourages ICE from “funding holding contracts beyond the last day of the fiscal year.”

Recently, three sources told Axios that ICE would run out of money by October unless the Department of Homeland Security was able to transfer millions of dollars from other programs.

The bill also directs ICE to notify the committee of all contracts from the Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations, which handles all aspects of the immigration enforcement process, including arrest, bail management and deportations, “concluded or amended for compliance with detention”.

Between 2017 and May 2020, the agency secured 40 new contracts with local agencies and private contractors for additional detention space, according to a Government Accountability Office report published in January 2021.

The document does not specify how many facilities are in Louisiana. But an Associated Press report in 2019 showed that at least eight Louisiana prisons began housing asylum seekers and other migrants in 2018.

“I think there’s progress in this appropriations bill, and you can find the prospect of moving away from the idea of ​​mass immigration detention,” said Mary Yanik, an attorney at Tulane Immigration Rights. Clinic in New Orleans.

“But Louisiana in recent years has had the second-most detention beds in the nation, after Texas, and I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon. We still see a lot of detentions here even though the number is going down nationally because ICE has invested quite deeply in these contracts,” Yanik added.

The bill also recommended funding for programs promoted for years by migrant advocacy groups in Louisiana, including more than $16 million to update law libraries and improve lawyers’ access to law enforcement facilities. ‘ICE.

Asylum seekers were often unrepresented in Louisiana, especially when their hearings took place in courts located in remote parts of the state, far from New Orleans. Between 2016 and 2021, the 15 immigration judges in New Orleans, Oakdale and Jena denied 4,119 of the 4,632 applications they heard, a denial rate of 88.36% in statewide, according to an Acadiana Advocate analysis of Transactional Record Access Clearinghouse data.

The appropriations bill notes that there is concern “about the lack of meaningful access to counsel for those in ICE physical custody.”

The bill directs ICE facility managers to ensure over the next three months that attorneys can “request, schedule, and arrange free, confidential, and unmonitored telephone calls and videoconference appointments, lasting at least 60 minutes allowing for interpretation by a third party with their clients.”

“We welcome the reduction in the number of beds because we believe that immigrants should not be detained simply because they are immigrants as is happening now,” Lopez said. “Still, we are concerned that the trend we have seen over the past two years may be worse and that Louisiana facilities will be more overcrowded. We would like this reduction to reach zero.

Norman D. Briggs