Due to the pandemic, immigration and customs enforcement has only used a fraction of the available beds for alien detention. There are public health concerns about the spread of the coronavirus in communal environments, and currently only about 60 percent of the beds the agency pays for are in use.
The number of undocumented migrants crossing the southwestern border has skyrocketed during Mr Biden’s presidency, and his administration has increasingly turned to alternatives to detention, including ankle monitors, a smartphone application with facial recognition technology and phones that allow undocumented migrants pending legal proceedings can use to check in at the Immigration Service.
As of Friday, more than 200,000 immigrants were equipped with one of these surveillance devices, according to internal data. That’s more than double the number of such devices the Immigration Service used a year ago. Congress recently gave the agency more than $440 million in alternatives to detention for the current fiscal year, and the agency is testing a house arrest program expected to roll out nationwide this summer.
Republicans have criticized the Biden administration for releasing so many migrants in the country to await deportation proceedings, a practice derogatoryly referred to as “catch and release.” The concern has long been that such immigrants will not appear in court and will instead disappear into the country like millions of other undocumented immigrants.
The situation on the southwestern border, where about 13,000 undocumented migrants have been apprehended every day for the past few weeks, has proved fertile for Republican attacks on the government. Many Republicans were outraged by the decline in immigration and customs arrests and deportations in 2021 compared to the previous year, details of which were disclosed in a recent agency report.
The number of deportations decreased last year, in part because officials deported migrants under the public health rule during the pandemic, and those deportations are not counted as deportations. But other enforcement actions in the country have also slowed due to revised priorities under Mr. Biden and staff shortages.
“In a year where there have been record highs of illegal border crossings, we shouldn’t have a record low in arrests and deportations,” West Virginia Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito said. wrote on Twitter after the report was released.