Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testified on Capitol Hill and explained to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) of the Senate Appropriations Committee that when DHS detains criminal illegal immigrants, they are turned over U.S. Marshals and that there is no alternative to detention. When Nielsen started to say on May 8, “I just want to say again — if you cross in between the ports of entry…,” Murray interrupted to suggest that it is Nielsen’s political philosophy rather than her duty to enforce the law which animates the secretary’s opposition to illegal immigration.
“It’s not a philosophy, it’s a law Congress passed,” Nielsen responded. “So those people need to come to the ports if they want to seek asylum.”
Murray is opposed to what she calls the "Trump Administration’s cruel practice of detaining pregnant women in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody." During the subcommittee hearing on the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) budget, Murray asked Nielsen about what the senator regards as the "inadequate level of care pregnant women receive in DHS facilities." Murray complained that DHS did not initially inform Congress of a policy change that would lead to more pregnant women being placed in detention for longer periods of time. She called on Nielsen to reverse course because, according to the senator's website, "it puts pregnant women in detention at risk. Murray pressed the secretary on use of detention over alternatives that the senator believes would be cheaper than "unnecessarily detaining people."
Here is a partial transcript:
MURRAY: We obviously disagree, and let me just ask you another question because this committee gets a lot of requests for additional funds to reprogram our funds or transfer funds due to overspending and a lack of fiscal discipline in your department.
As you know, Congress, not this administration, sets your budget and you have to live within the means that we give to you, and to me far too frequently it seems a big part of DHS overspending is caused by ICE unnecessarily detaining people, like we talked about, pregnant women.
As you know, detention is really expensive, every year ICE -- each year ICE detains someone, it costs taxpayers over $50,000. For comparison, by the way, that's four times the amount the federal government spends on each child in our public schools.
So what this means is that taxpayers are now footing the bill for food, medical care, clothing and the expensive prison contracts that ICE is using for detention, like the facility that's in my home state.
To me that's really inexcusable because there are less expensive and more effective alternatives to detention. And in fact, according to your own budget, to use one of the alternatives to detention costs less than $1,500 per year compared to that $50,000.
So while you're asking for billions of dollars in additional funds to build the unnecessary border wall, hire more ICE and border patrol, expand detention, militarize the border, you're asking to cut funding for alternatives to detention in your budget.
So why is the department not asking us to expand the use of alternatives to detention in order to save taxpayer money?
NIELSEN: We are looking to do both. So as you know, one of the alternatives to detention is an ankle bracelet. We do utilize those in situations where appropriate. If somebody, however, is -- has broken the law, in the sense that there are multiple re-entry, or they have some other reason to be criminally prosecuted, we actually turn them over to the Marshals.
We refer them over for prosecution, in which case there is no option for an alternate to detention. So if you look at all the numbers, we are trying to find ways to do it. But I do want just say again, if you cross in between the ports of entry, if you -
MURRAY: I know what your philosophy is. I'm out of time. I just want -
NIELSEN: It's not a philosophy. It's a law Congress passed.
NIELSEN: So it encourages you to go to the ports, if they need to come to seek asylum.
MURRAY: Well, I -- I just will say to you -