In a heated House Judiciary Committee hearing this afternoon, Alabama Republican Rep. Spencer Bachus, a conservative, said that the Obama administration is detaining too many people in immigration detention.
“Are you overusing detention?” Bachus asked Immigration and Customs Enforcement chief John Morton. Bachus said under the Obama administration, “It looks to me maybe there’s an overuse of detention by this administration.”
ICE holds over 400,000 people in detention annually.
Morton was called before the committee to answer questions on recent news that ICE opened detention doors for over 2000 immigrant detainees. Most are now tracked through supervised release programs.
House Judiciary Committee chair Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), and the chair of the immigration subcommittee, Rep. Trey Gawdy (R-SC), challenged Morton to defend the recent detainee releases. At points in questioning, Gawdy raised his voice in apparent anger.
In a statement earlier this month, Gawdy said, “Considering the government’s primary function is public safety, it is very concerning to me that the Department of Homeland Security had plans to reduce spending by releasing thousands of illegal immigrants and criminal aliens.”
But Bachus, who spared briefly with Goodlatte during the hearing today, sounded remarkably like an immigrant rights advocate. Rights groups have long said that the federal government overuses immigration detention for people who could be released during their deportation proceedings.
“Something more important than budgets is the immigration detention policy,” Bachus said. “How many of them could be released to family members?”
“Why are they detained at all?” Bachus asked.
Morton repeated today that the detainee release was a decision by ICE officials in response to looming budget cuts because of the government sequester. Republicans including Gawdy say they don’t beleive him and argue that the release appears to have been a political ploy by the Obama administration to scare lawmakers into avoiding the sequester.
“It does look like the decision to release detainees was a political determination and not a monetary determination,” Rep. Gawdy said.
This post has been updated since publication