Napolitano May Move Captured Illegal Aliens from Jail to ‘Converted Hotels, Nursing Homes’

By Penny Starr | October 7, 2009 | 5:37 PM EDT

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the reforms being made to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's immigration detention practices will include "alternatives to detention." ( Starr)

( – Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Tuesday that she is pursuing plans to remove some captured illegal aliens from “prison-like or jail-like circumstances” and put them in converted hotels and nursing homes.
“To better manage detention operations, ICE will develop a risk assessment and custody classification, which will enable detainees to be placed in an appropriate facility,” DHS said in a statement. “ICE will pursue detention strategies based on assessed risk and reduce costs by exploring the use of converted hotels, nursing homes and other residential facilities.”
Napolitano explained her department’s thinking at a press conference at Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“Our detention system has some who have committed crimes, others whose crimes under federal law is a misdemeanor, others who have as I said before not committed a crime at all,” Napolitano said.

DHS detained about 378,000 aliens last year, who at any given time “occupy 32,000 to 34,000 beds across the country,” Napolitano said at her press conference. She said DHS would likely end its contractual relationships with at least some detention facilities currently holding illegal immigrants.
The department, Napolitano said, intended “to review all contracts for detention facilities to identify not only opportunities for improvement but also for renegotiation and indeed termination where warranted.”

Napolitano noted that DHS will develop detention strategies based on assessed risk that will reduce costs and put illegal aliens “near immigration service providers.” These strategies will include pursuing the use of non-prison-like housing.
“As was said, this is a system that encompasses many different types of detainees, not all of whom need to be held in prison-like circumstances or jail-like circumstances, which not only may be unnecessary but more expensive than necessary,” said Napolitano.
“We will begin to house nonviolent non-criminals, such as newly arrived asylum seekers, at facilities commensurate with the risks that they present,” said Napolitano. “And we will also begin efforts to house these populations near immigration service providers and pursue different options like converted hotels or residential facilities for their detentions.”

Napolitano said DHS and ICE would provide a plan to Congress on that she called 'alternatives to detention.'
“We will develop an assessment tool to identify those aliens suitable for alternatives to detention,” she said. “And we will submit a plan to Congress this fall to implement such a nationwide system.”

When asked to clarify Wednesday what DHS means by “Alternatives to Detention” (ATD) that it is considering using in dealing with captured illegal aliens who are awaiting deportation or potential deportation, Gillian Brigham, a spokeswoman with ICE, said “a range of alternatives” were being considered, including releasing and supervising, rather than detaining, some illegal aliens who have been arrested.

“‘Alternatives to Detention’ is kind of a range of things, and that includes stuff like electronic monitoring or intensive supervision, where people come and report into an office three times a week to a certain deportation officer there. Or have some sort of electronic monitoring,” Brigham said.

As many as 15,000 illegal aliens are already in ATD program, Brigham said.

Brigham said it would be up to ICE officers and case workers to decide whether a non-criminal illegal alien is placed in the “less restrictive” detention in a converted hotel, nursing home or other residential facilities, released and monitored electronically, or required to report to an ICE office a specific number of times per week. asked Napolitano if the “alternatives to detention” program would be modeled on the catch-and-release system previously used in federal immigration enforcement. This involved releasing captured illegal aliens into the general population pending a court date. Many did not show up for the court proceeding. 

The catch-and-release policy was ended during the Bush administration.

“No, you’re right,” said Napolitano. “And catch-and-release was problematic, and I can say that. I was governor of Arizona, and before that I was the attorney general of Arizona. So, we see what worked and what didn’t work.
“And so one of—two of the issues that we need to make sure are covered as we look at alternatives to detention are, A, that those who are given ATD are not going to use that to escape, basically, or get into the general population in a way that we can’t quickly find them and get them back,” Napolitano added.
She said that another problem with alternatives to detention in the past is that it often actually prolonged adjudication of illegal aliens’ immigration case.
“A second is as follows,” said Napolitano. “One of the things that was happening over time because we were detaining so many, and will continue that as we do immigration enforcement, was that if somebody was given an alternative to detention, then they were kind of put at the back of the line in regards to actually having their status adjudicated.
“And so they were actually kind of in detention longer than they would have been if they’d simply been held and gone to an immigration court, had their status adjudicated and the removal completed,” she said.
Janice Kephart, national security policy director at the Center for Immigration Studies, believes that “alternatives to detention” is just another name for the failed “catch and release” model.

“‘Alternatives to Detention’ is just another way to say ‘Catch and Release,’ which was the thorn in the side of the prior administration until they stopped it and put rule of law in place,” said Kephart.

“Although managing detention facilities and their populations well is a good goal, simply doing it by reducing the illegal population and dispersing them back into American communities does not help enforce immigration law or make our communities more secure,” Kephart said.

Kephart pointed out that Mir Aimal Kansi, who murdered two CIA employees outside the agency's Langley, Va., headquarters; Ramzi Yousef, who masterminded the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center; and Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who inspired the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, had all been asylum applicants who were left free in the United States.