DHS Left Billions from Its Budget on the Table While Releasing Detainees

By Jessica M. Vaughan on March 1, 2013

Congressional inquiries prompted by ICE's recent release of immigration detainees, many of whom have criminal convictions or charges, reveal that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has billions of dollars in unexpended revenues, including resources for detention space. This information calls into question the administration's claims that the detainee releases were necessary for budgetary reasons and casts further doubt on their commitment to immigration enforcement and homeland security.

In a letter sent Wednesday to ICE Director John Morton, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) notes that ICE reported last week that at that time it was using only 30,773 out of 34,000 budgeted detention beds, which is about 9.5 percent below capacity. Funding for detention space is determined by Congress through the appropriations process, and ICE is required by law to use all of the resources provided for this purpose. McCaul expressed concern over ICE's possible mismanagement of resources and priorities.

According to another letter sent to DHS Secretary Napolitano Wednesday from House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), DHS has carried a large surplus of unspent money in its accounts, even as Napolitano has repeatedly cried poverty to lawmakers and the public. The letter notes that DHS had an unobligated balance of $8 billion at the end of FY 2012, and that the Office of Management and Budget projected a $9 billion surplus for the agency by the end of FY 2013.

Both letters demanded that the agencies promptly provide details on the detainee releases and on DHS and ICE planning in anticipation of the fiscal situation.