Some Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers say they're being told to cut back on arrests so there are detention beds available for migrants detained at the southern border.
The directive reportedly was not issued nationwide but was given to agents in some ICE field offices, according to The Washington Times.
"We are being told to abandon detention of anyone without a Class A felony, like murder, in preparation for border flights," one East Coast ICE officer told the Times.
It's the latest indication that the Biden administration is anticipating a surge of illegal immigrants after the pandemic immigration policy known as Title 42 expires. The Trump-era health edict was used to quickly expel migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border nearly 2.5 million times in less than three years, according to CNN.
ICE told the Times that the agency's leadership did not give any such orders.
"There has not been any guidance sent to the field that would change [ICE enforcement and rRemoval operations] efforts," an agency spokesperson said in a statement.
The East Coast ICE officer said the field offices likely made the decision to reduce arrests themselves after being told to make space for border cases.
"To ensure they had room for planeloads, they told the field not to make any arrests unless it is an extreme severity charge," the officer said.
According to Tom Homan, who led ICE during the Trump administration, easing up on arrests is a mistake.
"With the crime rate rising to historic highs across the country, especially in the Northeast, what ICE is doing makes no sense from a public safety perspective," he told the Times.
Homan blamed Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for the agency's failings.
"I guess when the DHS secretary says they will prioritize public safety threats, he was again lying just like his statements on a secure border," Homan said, referring to Mayorkas' repeated claims that violent criminals would be removed when encountered, while also reducing ICE arrests and deportations.
Detention is an essential element of immigration enforcement, as migrants can be deported if they can be detained.
According to data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, the use of beds for ICE's arrests from the interior U.S. went from 55,000 during the Trump years, to 13,000 at the beginning of the Biden administration, suggesting an unwillingness to use available resources to remove migrants.
In late November, only about 31,500 of 34,000 funded beds were in use, according to the Times.
President Joe Biden's 2023 budget request seeks to slash ICE's average daily capacity by 27%, to 25,000 beds, perplexing officers who say the move to tie their hands seems deliberate.
"My opinion is that they want the border opened," one officer said. "By obfuscating the process so much, they can claim they have things under control while they let everyone in."
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