WASHINGTON: United States (US) authorities are transferring into federal prisons about 1,600 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees in the first large-scale use of federal prisons to hold detainees amid a Trump administration crackdown on people entering the country illegally.
An ICE spokeswoman said that five federal prisons would temporarily take in detainees awaiting civil immigration court hearings, including potential asylum seekers, with one prison in Victorville, California, preparing to house 1,000 people.
US President Donald Trump made his hard-line stance on immigration an integral part of his presidency and promised to build a wall along the US-Mexican border to stem the flow of migrants.
He also promised to keep immigrants targeted for deportation locked up “pending the outcome of their removal proceedings”.
Under former president Barack Obama, many immigrants without serious criminal records were allowed to await their court dates while living in the US.
Others were housed in immigration detention facilities or local jails.
The new policy drew criticism from immigration advocates and former officials.
ICE former assistant director Kevin Landy, responsible for the Office of Detention Policy and Planning under the Obama administration, said the move to house so many detainees at once in federal prisons was “highly unusual” and raised oversight concerns.
“A large percent of ICE detainees have no criminal record and are more vulnerable in a prison setting – security staff and administrators at BOP facilities have spent their careers dealing with hardened criminals serving long sentences for serious felonies, and the procedures and staff training reflect that,” he also said.
ICE Spokeswoman Dani Bennett said that ICE was “working to meet the demand for additional immigration detention space” due to a surge in illegal border crossings and a US Department of Justice zero-tolerance policy.
“To meet this need, ICE is collaborating with the US Marshals Service (USMS), the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), private detention facility operators and local government agencies,” she added.