Subject: On-the-Record Press Call on Interior Enforcement

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
February 11, 2019


Via Telephone


2:24 P.M. EST

MR. GIDLEY: Appreciate everyone joining the call. I do have an update for you as it relates to the attribution of this briefing call. It has been changed from on-background to on-the-record. I repeat: This call is now on the record. The briefing will be conducted by Deputy Director of ICE, Matt Albence. And he will address the dangerously catastrophic consequences of capping U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement bed space.

While the call has moved from on-background to now be on the record, the information on the call is still embargoed until the call's conclusion.

With that, I'll turn the call over to Deputy Director Albence.

DEPUTY DIRECTOR ALBENCE: Thank you. And thank you all for joining me today. To the point -- and I'll get to it, and I'll open for Q&A fairly rapidly because I know that's probably more effective than me just droning on -- but what's important to stress is that, with this cap that Congress is attempting to impose through this current budget process, ICE is being asked to ignore the very laws that Congress has already passed.

Of the individuals that we have in our custody, 72 percent of them are individuals who are subject to mandatory detention based on the Immigration and Nationality Act that Congress has already passed. So, no other federal law enforcement agency is being asked to ignore the laws that Congress has already passed.

With regard to putting a cap on ICE detention, this is a completely new provision that has never been in my 24-year career, and it will be extremely damaging to the public safety of this country. And if we are forced to live within a cap based on interior arrests, we will immediately be forced to release criminal aliens that are currently sitting in our custody. We'll be releasing gang members. We'll be releasing individuals convicted of (inaudible) domestic violence and drug crimes. And we will stop -- we will be limited in our ability to respond to state and local law enforcement agencies that are making arrests for these very crimes today, with these individuals sitting within their custody having been arrested for these criminal violations.

And they are asking us to come take these individuals out of their jails, out of their communities, and (inaudible) removal from the United States, remove them from the United States for the safety of their community and those that they serve.

Unfortunately, we won't be able to -- we will not be able to respond to as many calls as we do today. And, in fact, in many of these calls, we're going to tell them, "Just release them," because we have no choice.

I can't understand how anyone, especially individuals, are sitting there saying that we need to be focusing our resources on criminals -- which we do. If you look at our statistics, 9 out of every 10 people that we arrest come to ICE's attention via the criminal justice system. That means they've been convicted of a crime or have been charged with a crime. And if you add in those individuals who have been previously deported and enter the country illegally, or have been through court -- the immigration court process -- have received a file order of removal, and have absconded from that removal order, making them a fugitive, you are at 92 percent.

So we prioritize our limited resources to the best of our ability. But putting an artificial cap on our ability to detain individuals who pose a public safety threat is an (inaudible) public safety in this country, and it will lead to disastrous results. We all know that many of these individuals are recidivist criminals. For example, last year, we arrested 138,000 people in the interior of the United States that either had a conviction or a criminal charge pending upon -- at the time of their arrest.

But those individuals, they count for over 540,000 criminal violations. So while you'll hear somebody say that an individual was stopped for not having a driver's license or driving without insurance, and arrested for that crime, that may be the case. But that individual may have a rap sheet a mile long, which hosts a list of violent crimes or immigration felonies that is why we are taking the enforcement action that individual in the first place.

And on top of all of that, we have to remember that, absent the criminality, these individuals have broken the law by coming here illegally, or coming here legally and overstaying their visas. So we cannot have a system whereby immigration enforcement is only effectuated against those individuals once they commit a subsequent crime to their initial immigration violation.

You cannot have border security without a strong interior enforcement component because you'll continually have people to put the pressure upon that border. Whether there's a wall there or not, they can come through a port of entry and make a fraudulent asylum claim, they can come on a legitimate visa and overstay that visa. And if they know that there is no enforcement arm within the interior of the United States that's out there looking for them, you will continually have that pull factor and you will never secure the border.

So I will leave it at that and be happy to answer any questions.

Q Hi, yes, thank you for doing the call and for taking questions. I was just wondering -- I mean, considering a lot of the ICE data on your own website, and CBP data shows that the vast majority of those crimes are traffic offenses, immigration offenses -- according to CBP, it's 4 percent of those apprehended at the southern border and at ports of entry are violent criminals -- wouldn’t those funds be better used perhaps instead of using detention beds, but creating an E-verify system so, as you said, they know they can't overstay their visa, and using perhaps an ankle-monitoring system?

DEPUTY DIRECTOR ALBENCE: Okay. Ankle monitors -- or, excuse me, E-verify is a complete, whole separate issue that probably is not the best topic for this thing, that we can get into another time.

Ankle monitors, an alternative to detention, are woefully ineffective at effectuating removals of individuals from the United States. The ATD budget has increased significantly over the past half-decade, and the number of individuals that we've been able to remove as a result of those budget increases is minimal.

Last year, for a $183 million budget, we removed 2,470 individuals as a result of being on ATD. Had that money been placed into detention beds, we would be able -- we would have been able to remove more than 10 times that number. What we have seen is that the absconder rate on ATD, especially with regard to family units, is 1 in 3.

Further, what we have seen through a project that we're doing with the Executive Office of Immigration Review to have a dedicated docket to deal with these family units -- because of the crush at the border of these family units -- is, for about the past seven months, the immigration judges have issued 2,600 removal orders against family units. Twenty-five hundred of those removal orders were issued in absentia, meaning that these individuals, they didn’t even show up to their first hearing in front of the immigration court.

Overall, EOIR issued more than 45,000 in-absentia orders on individuals here in the country that did not show up for their hearings. The number-one determinative factor of an individual being removed, once he receives that removal order, is that individual is sitting in a detention bed at that time that order is issued. Detention is the only proven effective method to ensure that the individual order removed is actually removed.

Q Hi, thanks for doing this. You mentioned at the beginning of the call that 72 percent of the detained population is subject to mandatory detention. Can you break that down by what percentage of those who are in detention, who are being arrested in the interior of the U.S., are subject to mandatory detention?

DEPUTY DIRECTOR ALBENCE: I don’t have that in front of me, but, yes, that's a stat that we can certainly follow up with.

Q How many folks are in detention right now as a result of interior enforcement? And what fraction of them have convictions for violent crimes?

DEPUTY DIRECTOR ALBENCE: I haven’t seen the numbers today because they fluctuate, but we're going to be in around twenty- or twenty-two thousand, I believe, of individuals that are there as a result of an ICE arrest. The majority of those are going to have a criminal conviction. Many of those individuals will be individuals who are in finals orders of removal, meaning that they've exhausted all forms of due process, they've gone through the immigration court process, and have been order-removed by an immigration judge.

And under the Immigration and Nationality Act, those are individuals subject to mandatory detention, and they're being held until we can get a travel document and get them scheduled to be removed to their countries.

Q Thanks very much. One of the arguments that Democrats have been making in the last two days has been the -- given the fiscal year authority is significantly underway, there's not even time left to even spend all the money that could be appropriated for interior enforcement. So it would be great to hear what you feel about that.

DEPUTY DIRECTOR ALBENCE: Well, I mean, we don’t necessarily get appropriated funds for interior enforcement. So the main PPA is for ICE ERO to deal with detention and transportation. Those are the two biggest buckets, outside of salaries and operating costs, where we're funded to perform interior enforcement. But a lot of that detention money is solely dedicated for detaining individuals arrested at the border, by the Border Patrol.

So, ICE has a very diverse mission within the ERO. It's kind of a bifurcated mission whereby there's a detention entity for CBP -- whether it's somebody arrested at a port of entry or whether it's between the ports of entry -- as well as the interior enforcement mission, and then obviously, ERO is responsible for removing those individuals once order-removed by an immigration judge.

So the President's budget asks for 52,000 beds. That's really what we need to get the judge done. We're managing as best as we can with the resources that we currently have, but there’s certainly no shortage of work out there.

Q Hi, thanks for taking my question. Could you -- just following up on the question on violent crimes, I know you said that twenty- or twenty-two thousand are in custody for ICE arrests. But could you say which ones of those are violent crimes?

And then, could you also talk about whether or not you’re open to some sort of overall cap? And if not, is it worth shutting down the government over this issue? Or do you see that there’s some other way out other than a shutdown?

DEPUTY DIRECTOR ALBENCE: So your second question -- I’m not a politician, I’m a career law enforcement officer, so I’m not going to speak to that. I can tell you, from a law enforcement perspective however, putting any sort of artificial cap on our ability to do our job and to remove public safety threats from the street is damaging to public safety.

I’m not sure if you saw the letter that was put out by the National Sheriffs' Association, and that entity also walked to the Hill today to express their views about the dangerousness of ICE being limited in its ability to enforce the laws.

With regards to your first question, if you look at our FY2018 report -- it’s currently on our website, and we talked about it -- but if you look at the crimes, we have 50,000 people -- or excuse me, there were 50,000 total offenses involving assault. There were over 2,000 offenses involving homicide. Over 12,000 sexual offenses. Almost 12,000 weapons offenses.

Again, our largest enforcement body within the interior of the United States is the Criminal Alien Program. That is where the vast majority of interior arrests stem. These are individuals that are here illegally in the United States -- many of them repeat illegal offenders -- that have gone on to commit additional crimes or be convicted of additional crimes, and are sitting in the custody of another law enforcement agency.

So what we’re saying is that these individuals who committed an act that was serious enough for the local authorities to make an arrest is also serious enough to us to take that individual off the street and remove them from the country.

Again, especially many of these individuals are repeat immigration offenders. So that’s why, when you look at that report and you see why there’s so many immigration violators, these are individuals that have been prosecuted for immigration crimes. And if they were prosecuted on the interior of the United States or 8 U.S.C. 1326, which is reentry after removal, the thresholds within U.S. attorneys' offices for those prosecutions are often quite high, meaning these individuals have a lengthy criminal record outside of their immigration violations.

Q Hi. Thanks so much for taking this call. I wanted to clarify -- I saw your interview with MSNBC this morning. We were talking about how much Congress has appropriated funds for some of these beds. I understand that it’s appropriated for 40K right now, but we have 48,000 individuals. I'm wondering where those funds are coming from.

DEPUTY DIRECTOR ALBENCE: They're still coming out of our detention PPA. That’s where we fund our detention beds. So, we are funding at levels where we are able to cover the bills that we currently have.

Q Hi, I wanted to ask how many -- is it true that many undocumented immigrants are actually in prison who are convicted of violent crimes? My question is, the fact that they're not necessarily in ICE custody doesn’t mean that they're roaming the streets. Correct?

DEPUTY DIRECTOR ALBENCE: No, we will take custody of these individuals once they are released from whatever prison sentence or jail time that they are serving. Ideally, we would get those individuals directly from the law enforcement agency or correctional agency that is maintaining custody of that individual.

Unfortunately, in many locations that consider themselves sanctuary jurisdictions, that's unable to occur. So rather than us taking this individual in custody, many of whom are violent felons, in the safety and security of the jail, we have to put the public and our officers at greater risk by making those arrests at-large in the community.

So we will continue to take those individuals into custody. That’s what our officers are sworn to do. Those are laws that they have sworn to uphold and will continue to do so.

Q Yes, hi. So you were just mentioning the danger for ICE law enforcement officials in cities or states that are sanctuaries. How does that affect your ability to -- like, the percent -- the number of people that you're able to pick up? So, for example, when you have detainers and you are able to go to prison or something like that, to pick someone up -- the number of people you're able to apprehend versus when you have to go get them from the community, and the danger that it poses to law enforcement.

DEPUTY DIRECTOR ALBENCE: If we have an individual that’s in custody in the local jurisdictions for whom we have an enforcement interest, you can generally send one or two officers to get that individual. We can actually even send a contractor, at times, to pick up that individual. In the safety and security of the jail, the individual is handcuffed, he's never free. He's never in a position where he can assault the officer who is taking custody of him. That’s a much more efficient and effective fashion to take custody of these individuals.

If we have to go out and locate them in the community, we need to send a team of officers out there to do it. We need to do surveillance. We need to do a significant number of record checks before we go to these residences. And, frankly, the sanctuary jurisdiction movement is part and partial of what we are looking right now with regard to this artificial cap that’s trying to placed on detention beds. They are trying to undermine our ability to do interior enforcement and to enforce immigration law.

Congress has every right to change the laws if they no longer like the ones that they already passed. However, until that time, we are charged and is our mission to enforce those laws equitably, fairly, and compassionately. And that’s what we do every day.

Q Thank you for the call. Do you all have a counter- proposal to what Congress has proposed? Or do you have something where you would accept less than what you currently want from Congress?

DEPUTY DIRECTOR ALBENCE: Again, I'm not involved in the negotiations. That's not my job. I can tell you that the President's budget asks for 52,000 beds, and that was informed by those of that are operators and subject-matter experts with regard to what we need, based on the resources that we have, to effectively discharge our responsibilities.

Q Hi, thanks so much. This debate about how many beds ICE is funded for seems to gone on for years. This is a constant congressional debate. Can you tell us a little bit about why it is that this number is so high this year?

DEPUTY DIRECTOR ALBENCE: Again, the request was for 52,000 beds. We have sophisticated modeling that we do that takes into account the number of officers we have, the number of resources, the number of border apprehensions, and tries to predict the number of beds that we actually need. So it's those models -- which we've used for several years now very effectively, and they've proven to be very accurate -- that we use to predict what we expect our detention needs will be. Again, it's like looking into a crystal ball; nobody knows exactly what's going to happen. Nobody thought, this time last year, that you would see 35,000 family units a month coming to the border and turning themselves into the Border Patrol, and us having to release them because Congress hasn’t fixed the laws.

So we predict, based on knowledge, based on past trends, and then based on a cushion that provides us enough flexibility, should we hit a crisis such as we currently are in.

MR. GIDLEY: Deputy Director, is there anything else you'd like to add before we get off the call?

DEPUTY DIRECTOR ALBENCE: No, that's it. I appreciate everybody's time. And we're happy you're paying attention to this. I mean, this is a crucial public safety issue, and it's unfortunate that people are putting politics over public safety. There really shouldn’t be a debate about us taking dangerous criminals and immigration violators off the street and out of our communities.

Without ICE, without us here in the interior of the United States, I can't reiterate enough that you will not have border security. And I think this is -- there are people that are buying into this whole "abolish ICE" movement, and they're trying to do so through the judiciary process at this point.

MR. GIDLEY: Thank you so much for the time. And thank you to all the reporters, journalists who have joined the call and asked questions. As always, the White House is available to you guys as a resource for any follow-ups. We'll be here throughout the rest of the day and the rest of the week, so holler at us if you need us.

END 2:44 P.M. EST




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