The Trump administration has started moving up to 1,600 immigration violators awaiting deportation hearings into federal prisons, a first-of-its-kind transfer that shows how many more immigrants are being rounded up under the president’s push to crack down on illegal immigration.
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement official said Thursday that the agency entered into an agreement with the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Prisons to make the beds available for people caught illegally crossing the border.
The agreement, first reported by Reuters, follows the administration’s implementation of a “zero tolerance” policy that requires federal prosecutors to criminally charge everybody caught illegally crossing the border. Under previous administrations, first-time border crossers were usually put through civil deportation proceedings.
The result of the new policy has been a massive increase in the number of immigrants being detained, which led ICE to seek out additional bed space.
“The use of (Bureau of Prisons) facilities is intended to be a temporary measure until ICE can obtain additional long-term contracts for new detention facilities or until the surge in illegal border crossings subsides,” said ICE spokeswoman Danielle Bennett.
ICE will use five facilities in Victorville, Calif., La Tuna, Texas, Sheridan, Oregon, Phoenix and Seattle. The California facility will be the largest with 1,000 beds available to ICE.
The move to use federal prisons is the latest sign of how overwhelming the immigration crackdown has become under President Trump’s directives.
Facilities operated by the Department of Health and Human Services, which cares for unaccompanied children who crossed the border alone or who were separated from their families after entering the U.S., are at 95 percent. Short-term facilities operated by Border Patrol are filled.
And courtrooms across the southwest have been so overloaded that the Department of Justice is sending more prosecutors and immigration judges to handle the surge.
“I don’t know how much longer we’re going to be able to keep up with this flow,” Azalea Aleman-Bendiks, an assistant federal public defender in McAllen, Texas, said this week.
So far, the strategy of prosecuting all border crossers does not appear to be slowing down illegal immigration from Mexico, Central and South America. Border Patrol agents apprehended more than 40,000 people trying to cross the southborder in May, the highest figure during the Trump presidency, according to Customs and Border Protection data.