(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration’s new manual for detaining illegal aliens “reads more like a hospitality guideline for illegal immigrants,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said on Wednesday.
“Under this administration, detention looks more like recess,” Smith told an oversight hearing mockingly entitled “Holiday on ICE.” ICE is the acronym for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.
“While funds for American students’ physical education classes are being cut, the new detention standards expand recreation for illegal immigrants,” Smith said in his opening statement.
“For instance, illegal and criminal immigrants in ICE custody will have options such as soccer, volleyball and basketball. It would be nice if all American students got those options.”
Smith said federal law enforcement agents should not act be acting as concierges, and he criticized the Obama administration for putting the interests of illegal immigrants ahead of those of American taxpayers.
The new detention standards are intended to improve medical and mental health services; increase access to legal services and religious opportunities; improve communication with detainees who don’t speak English; improve the process for reporting and responding to complaints; and increase recreation and visitation.
Earlier this month, ICE opened the $30-million Karnes County Civil Detention Center in Texas, which is the first minimum-security facility built in compliance with the new detention standards.
Smith noted that the amenities at Karnes include a library with free Internet access, cable TV, an indoor gym with basketball courts, soccer fields, and sand and nets for beach volleyball.
“Instead of guards, unarmed ‘resident advisers’ patrol the grounds,” Smith said – and that’s a problem, a union leader told lawmakers.
“It is the union’s opinion, that if left unchecked, the administration’s actions will defeat many of its own stated goals by creating a more dangerous detention system, resulting in injury to ICE detainees, ICE officers, and contract employees,” said Chris Crane, president of the National ICE Council 118 of the American Federation of Government Employees, in written testimony prepared for Wednesday’s hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Policy Enforcement.
Crane, who represents thousands of ICE officers, called the new ICE detention standards “unsafe for detainees and unsafe for employees.” He told the hearing that ICE’s new emphasis on arresting the “worst of the worst” has brought “more violent, aggressive and overall dangerous” detainees into ICE facilities.
But at the same time, “security protocols within ICE facilities appear to be weakening.”
Under the new rules, a “steep increase” in violence and aggression by detainees against immigration officers as well as escape attempts can be expected, Crane warned.
The new detention standards have “been accompanied by no measures to increase safety for ICE officers and contractors,” Crane testified. He added that ICE has not set up a system for ICE employees to report assaults against officers, and as a result, many assaults may go unreported.
Crane also said the new standards do not require criminal background screenings of individuals visiting detainees.
“In discussion with ICE leadership, ICE stated that it was concerned that aliens attempting to enter ICE facilities would be identified as being in the U.S. illegally during background screenings and would therefore be subject to arrest or otherwise unable to enter the facility,” he explained.
“ICE was more concerned with preserving the ability of foreign nationals illegally in the U.S. to enter ICE facilities than (in) the safety of its own officers and the general security of ICE detention facilities and communities nationwide,” he said.
The new detention standards also establish “new prohibitions on strip searches,” according to the union chief.
Crane accused DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and ICE Director John Morton of excluding ICE officers, agents and field managers from the process of formulating the new detention standards. Instead, Napolitano and Morton, “brought in over a hundred ‘stakeholders’ consisting primarily of advocacy groups to provide input on the new ICE detention standards,” he said.
Kevin Landy, the assistant director for ICE’s office of detention policy and planning, told the hearing that the Karnes facility near San Antonio "will house a minimum security population, such as asylum-seekers, those without criminal convictions, and other low-risk individuals," and therefore, it was built "to offer the least restrictive environment permissible."
Similar minimum security facilities have now been opened in Newark and Los Angeles, and others are planned for Chicago and Miami, he said.
According to Landy, ICE’s detention-improvement plan was a “top priority” for the agency:
“We envisioned an improved detention system that housed criminal and non-criminal aliens in different environments, in circumstances commensurate to their level of risk. We wanted to use fewer facilities, located closer to the location of apprehension, to reduce the number of people transferred away from their families, communities, and attorneys. We wanted to develop facilities more appropriate for the agency’s detained population and to improve conditions at facilities. We wanted to be fiscally prudent by improving efficiency.”
Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement, said the Obama administration’s new detention standards “unreasonably” put “the interests of removable aliens ahead of the interest of the nation and the American taxpayer.”
But Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), the ranking-member of the subcommittee, said that “a fundamental change was necessary to prevent suffering and death.”