Homeland Security Secretary to Ask for More Authority to Deport Asylum Seekers

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speaks at a section of the U.S.-Mexico border in Hidalgo, Texas in 2017 ( Image )

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speaks at a section of the U.S.-Mexico border in Hidalgo, Texas in 2017 (Image)


Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen is expected to ask Congress for the authority to deport unaccompanied migrant children more expediently and to detain families seeking asylum until their cases are resolved, according to a copy of the request obtained by NBC News.

In the letter to Congress, Secretary Nielsen requested immediate assistance in the form of emergency resources and additional authorities, including more expansive deportation and detention authority. The “proposed legislative language” is likely to be challenged by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, especially after the House failed to override President Trump’s veto regarding his declaration of a national emergency on the border.

Current law places the majority of unaccompanied migrant children in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which either reunites children with family or places children in shelters. In addition, the Flores settlement, a federal court agreement, prohibits the detention of migrant families with children for more than 20 days. Secretary Nielsen is expected to seek the loosening of legal limitations so that DHS may strengthen deportation and detention processes.

Although Secretary Nielsen wrote that she would “be working with the Office of Management and Budget to provide [Congress with] additional details in the near future,” according to NBC News, a senior administration official said that the request is likely to be more than hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Current immigration policy already has astronomical costs, and costs associated with immigration detention are particularly large. In 2019, custody operations appropriations are projected to cost $3.5 billion of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s $8.8 billion requested budget. Moreover, in 2018, the average daily cost for maintaining one detention bed was $133.99 and the average length of stay in detention was 44.0 days, making the average cost of detention for one undocumented immigrant $5895.56. All of these costs have been incurred without a consistent track record of current immigration policy’s effectiveness and efficiency. And yet, Secretary Nielsen seeks to expand immigration detention.

In the letter to Congress, Secretary Nielsen writes: “Unfortunately, Alternatives to Detention, such as ankle-bracelet monitoring, have proven expensive in the long run and ineffective at ensuring removals ordered by an immigration judge.” However, Secretary Nielsen contradicts herself. In 2019, ICE requested $184.4 million to provide Alternatives to Detention (ATD) programming to 82,000, making the average daily cost to provide ATD programming for one individual $6.16 — more than 20 times less than the average daily cost of maintaining one detention bed. Moreover, past and current ICE ATD programming has had over 99% of their participants appear at required immigration court hearings. It remains unclear if Secretary Nielsen’s requests for more expansive authority will be actually fulfilled, but it is more than likely that her requests will be fiercely challenged as the United States continues to be at an immigration impasse.