Feb 15, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Cash shortfall threatens to shut down ICE border detention

 Border patrol agents take people into custody next to the U.S.-Mexico border fence where the last of the Colorado River flows into Mexico

Border patrol agents take people into custody next to the U.S.-Mexico border fence. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has drafted plans for releasing up to 15,000 people without accepting new migrants from the border in their place due to massive cash shortfalls, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Congress has failed to provide the agency much-needed emergency funds. Now $700 million in the hole, ICE is eyeing cuts to its central immigration efforts as members of both parties decry the border crisis.

  • Officials have been concerned for months about ICE's funding shortfall in the face of the ongoing border surge and congressional inaction to fund the government or pass emergency requests, as Axios previously reported.
  • Without any changes, ICE would use up every dollar dedicated for detention by the end of July, according to internal documents obtained by Axios.

Between the lines: The record numbers of people coming across the border, and ICE's efforts to assist its sister agency Customs and Border Protection, has drained its resources.

  • Inflation and other factors have also driven up the costs of transportation and detention of migrants, according to a source familiar.
  • DHS has repeatedly asked for emergency funds from Congress.
  • GOP infighting killed a bipartisan border deal that would have funneled more than $7 billion to the flailing agency.

The big picture: All year, ICE has had been detaining more people than Congress budgeted. There are currently around 38,000 people in ICE custody.

  • The lack of new funding from Congress has been threatening ICE's ability to continue its key immigration roles for months.

What they're saying: "If Congress once again refuses to provide the critical funding needed to support DHS's vital missions, they would be harming DHS's efforts to deliver tough and timely consequences to those who do not have a legal basis to remain in the country," a DHS spokesperson said in a statement.

  • "The fact that we are always considering options does not mean we will take action immediately, or at all," the spokesperson added.

The bottom line: Republicans have long decried "catch and release," and have pushed policies that would require the administration to detain everyone until they are deported.

  • Without more money, ICE's ability to detain and deport is seriously limited.
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