U.S. authorities transferring 1,600 ICE detainees to federal prisons

Vastavam web: U.S. authorities are transferring into federal prisons about 1,600 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees, officials told Reuters on Thursday, in the first large-scale use of federal prisons to hold detainees amid a Trump administration crackdown on people entering the country illegally. An ICE spokeswoman told Reuters five federal prisons will temporarily take in detainees awaiting civil immigration court hearings, including potential asylum seekers, with one prison in Victorville, California, preparing to house 1,000 people.

Under former President Barack Obama, many immigrants without serious criminal records were allowed to await their court dates while living in the United States. Others were housed in immigration detention facilities or local jails. ICE has used federal prisons in the past but not on this scale, sources said. The new policy drew criticism from immigration advocates and former officials. Kevin Landy, a former ICE assistant director responsible for the Office of Detention Policy and Planning under the Obama administration, said the move to house so many detainees at once in federal prisons was “highly unusual” and raises oversight concerns.

Officials of a prison employees’ union said the influx of ICE detainees, who were arrested at the border or elsewhere in the United States by immigration officials, raises questions about prison staffing and safety. Union leaders at prisons in California, Texas and Washington state who spoke to Reuters said they had little time to prepare for the large intake of detainees. “There is so much movement going on,” said Kostelnik. “Everyone is running around like a chicken without their head.”

In addition to Victorville, other prisons that have received or will receive detainees include ones in Washington state, Oregon, Arizona and Texas. ICE spokeswoman Dani Bennett said ICE is “working to meet the demand for additional immigration detention space” due to a surge in illegal border crossings and a U.S. Department of Justice zero-tolerance policy.In April 2018, nearly 51,000 people were apprehended at or near the southern border, up from about 16,000 in the same month a year earlier.

A new agreement between ICE and the Justice Department makes about 1,600 prison beds available and is expected to last 120 days, giving ICE time to secure more space for detainees. It comes amid a crackdown by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on both illegal border crossings and people seeking asylum. Recently, Sessions said the Justice Department planned to prosecute every person who crosses the border illegally and to separate migrant children from their parents. Immigration advocates immediately decried the news of sending detainees to federal penitentiaries. “Our federal prisons are set up to detain the worst of the worst. They should not be used for immigration purposes,” said Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum.