Government Funding Bill Replaces Detention with Ineffective Alternatives

By Matthew Sussis on February 14, 2019

The recently released government funding bill contains a litany of anti-enforcement provisions, some of which — such as restrictions on fencing and amnesty for "potential sponsors" of minors — have been widely discussed.

One concerning provision of the bill that has seen far less discussion is that it replaces alien detention — which is a highly effective deterrent to illegal border crossings — with costly and ineffective "alternative to detention" (ATD) measures. For background, ATD includes methods such as community monitoring through nongovernmental organizations, ankle bracelets, wrist bracelets, and GPS technology, all of which are used to track aliens awaiting trial. While these measures sound like humane and effective alternatives to detaining aliens, in reality they are riddled with challenges and fail to eliminate the need for detention.

The bill would establish Congress's intent to reduce the number of ICE detention beds to roughly 40,520 by the end of the fiscal year, down from current levels of approximately 49,000, at a time when ICE has warned that any cap on detention beds would be "extremely damaging to public safety" given the current surge of family units and unaccompanied minors crossing our border.

Instead, the bill expands the ATD programs to 100,000 participants from 82,000, including over $40 million for "family case management" to keep tabs on aliens who don't immediately abscond (as many do), but does not include money to actually find and remove those who do abscond. Often, aliens in ATD programs will simply cut off and throw away their ankle monitors, freely disappearing into the interior of the country. The bill does nothing to solve that issue, but instead exacerbates it.

Most of the aliens in these ATD programs simply claimed that they had a "credible fear" of returning to their home countries so that they could avoid removal proceedings and be released into the United States with the knowledge that they will almost certainly never be deported. Indeed, the number of aliens claiming credible fear soared 67 percent in FY 2018. By expanding ATD programs and slashing detention — which is an actual deterrent for border-crossers — this bill will only encourage far more aliens to show up to cross our border and make bogus credible-fear claims. Perhaps that's the point.