In an interview earlier this week with El Diario-La Prensa, the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Immigration and Custom Enforcement, (ICE), John T. Morton, acknowledged problems with immigration detention and discussed some of the new policies the agency is planning to put into practice.
On the matter of whether immigration enforcement is focused on immigrants who are here illegally versus those who have committed hard crimes…
“That would assume that law provides for detention for only people who have committed hard crimes,” Morton said. “That is not the case.” Citing issues with fraud and fugitives, Morton said that ICE is not out there “willy-nilly” pursuing immigrants. “We need to enforce the law,” he said. “We can’t have a system that’s marked by lawlessness.”
On unnecessary detention:
“We should use our detention space on people who pose an immediate threat to public safety….We don’t need to detain people who aren’t going to run away…But there are a lot of people who run away…We need to address those people.” Morton said that ICE is using the Secure Communities program to identify serious offenders and that there will be a challenge to find enough space to house them.
On Alternatives to Detention (ATD):
Morton explained that ATD “makes a ton of sense” for those who do not pose a risk.
He said that he supports ATD programs, provided that they work and are coupled with hearings in a reasonable amount of time. ATD, he said, is much cheaper than hard detention. ICE is working with the Department of Justice on two pilot ATD programs with expedited cases.
On whether private corporations have a financial interest in detention:
“We control what we need…We are not locked into these contracts for 10 years.”
He also referred to the faulty assumption that ICE is “pushed into detaining people we shouldn’t detain.”
On overhauling immigration detention:
Morton said that the goals for ICE include better oversight, more uniformity in standards and reducing dependency on contractors.
“I am not about defending status quo…This [reform] is a signature issue for me,” Morton said. “We’re doing a lot,” he said, adding that it will take several years to bring full weight of reforms into effect.
“That is an area we need to do far better on,” Morton said, explaining that ICE will disperse 50 monitors to detention facilities in June. Morton said that detention facilities will have better medical care and that a detainee locator system will be put in place. “You are going to see us be way more transparent then we were in the past,” he said.