ICE Acting Director Matthew Albence Testifies Before Congress

The southern border crisis has become a national crisis

On July 25, 2019, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Acting Director Matthew Albence testified before the Homeland Security subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations. The occasion was a hearing dedicated to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Oversight.

In his opening statement, Albence explained the need for increased budget appropriations for his agency, in light of the immigration crisis at the U.S. southern border. A greater understanding of the scope and causes of the problem can be gained from his remarks. Following is a transcript of Matthew Albence's opening statement.

Transcript of the Opening Statement

Good afternoon, chairwoman Royball-Allard, ranking member Fleischmann, and distinguished members of the subcommittee. As you are aware, the United States is currently facing an unprecedented national security and humanitarian crisis at our southwest border. Over the past year, the number of aliens apprehended at or near the southwest border has increased significantly. Today however, I am here to address other parts of the immigration system that remain in desperate need of resources, and funding, as well as the need for legislation that will help put an end to the current border crisis once and for all.

Immigration Law Enforcement in the Nation's Interior

The fact is, the majority of the aliens encountered at or near the border are released into the interior of the United States for removal proceedings, and the immigration courts currently have a backlog of more than 900,000 cases, and growing. The dedicated officers and agents of ICE are responsible for managing these cases, as well as those of the more than 3 million aliens currently on ICE's docket. Many aliens do not appear for removal proceedings, violating the terms of their release, including the terms of the Alternative to Detention [ATD] program, and fail to appear for their hearings or comply with removal orders.

The result is that the border crisis has become a national crisis, which requires a strong interior enforcement component that lends certainty to lawfully issued orders by immigration judges. The reality is, if our immigration laws are only enforced at the border, and you fail to provide adequate resources to insure that those who have entered illegally proceed through the immigration process, and if ordered removed, are actually removed, the entire system will break down. This failure will continue to serve as a magnet for additional aliens to illegally enter the country, and you will never have a secure border.

With this in mind, I come to ask for your assistance in providing ICE the funding it desperately needs to address not only the ongoing humanitarian crisis, but also the concurrent national security and public safety crises. While ICE's immigration enforcement is focused on the interior, the current situation at our border directly impacts this agency, and its resource requirements. CBP's [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] 780,633 encounters, include more than 390,000 members of family units, and 63,000 unaccompanied alien children. This represents 63 percent of all southwest border encounters in FY [fiscal year] 2019 year-to-date. Notably, in the last few months, ICE alone has been forced to release more than 215,000 members of family units into the interior of the United States, due to the Flores Settlement Agreement.

The Immigration Crisis has Strained ICE Resources

ICE's resources has been overburdened by the record numbers of CBP apprehensions at the southwest border, and Congress' repeated failure to fund ICE detention and transportation requirements at ICE requested levels. ICE is currently detaining over 53,000 single adults, and there are approximately 8,000 single adults in CBP custody, awaiting processing and transfer to ICE. Due to its very limited detention capacity, ICE must generally reserve its detention space for those who require Congressionally mandated detention, along with those who pose a national security, public safety or flight risk. However, based on increased enforcement activity on the border, additional ICE detention capacity and transportation funding is urgently needed.

To ensure the national security and public safety of the United States, and the faithful execution of the immigration laws passed by Congress, ICE officers may conduct targeted enforcement actions against any removable alien who is present in violation of immigration law. Despite what is often sensationally misreported, these are not indiscriminate raids or sweeps. Instead, ICE's operations are carefully planned, based on person-specific, intelligence-driven leads, focusing on those who represent a public safety threat, as well as those who have received a lawfully-issued order of removal from the immigration judge. Approximately 90% of EROs [Enforcement and Removal Operations] administrative arrests in the interior of this country are of aliens that have prior criminal convictions, face pending criminal charges, are immigration fugitives, or who have previously been removed from the country and have illegally reentered; the latter of which is a federal felony that ICE prosecutes extensively.

Interior Law Enforcement is Deficient, Due to the Crisis at the Border

However, the crisis on the border has negatively impacted ICE's interior enforcement mission, and thus the public safety of our communities. Resources dedicated to removing dangerous criminals from the streets have been redeployed to manage the increased workloads stemming from the border surge, resulting in an over 14% decrease in criminal alien arrests this fiscal year. Additionally, ICE has reassigned members of fugitive operations teams to manage detained dockets, or help respond to the border crisis.

The failure of Congress to increase funding for fugitive operations over the course of the last decade, has created a tremendous strain on ICE's ability to effectuate arrests of specific aliens who have failed to comply with removal orders, or with release conditions — including those who have absconded while on ATD. While Congress has sought to increase funding for ATD, it has failed to fund the necessary resources that make the program effective. Without sufficient numbers of fugitive operations officers to search for and arrest aliens who fail to comply with ATD, as well as sufficient detention space for those aliens to be detained once they are located and arrested, ATD will continue to offer very little benefit for its cost.

Additional resources are also requested in FY '20, to ensure that ICE's offices are the principal legal adviser, which is able to carry out its statutory responsibility to prosecute administrative immigration cases before the immigration courts. While Congress has increased the number of funded DOJ [Department of Justice] immigration judges and support positions during recent budget cycles, [?] funding has not kept pace, thereby exacerbating the backlog.

The Crisis Can Only be Solved Through Legislation

More critically, and most critically, I would like to highlight legislative changes that are urgently needed. To be clear, the FY '20 budget request only provides the necessary funding and resources for ICE to address the symptoms of the crisis. It does not — nor can any amount of resources — solve the problem. Legislative changes are the only viable option to swiftly put an end to the current crisis, reducing the victimization of migrants looking for a better life, and starving the cartels and transnational criminal organizations of a major segment of their illicit enterprises. Absent these changes, current laws will continue to be exploited, and the pull-factors they create will only result in more illegal immigration, and worsen the humanitarian crisis.

We ask you to terminate the Flores Settlement Agreement, and clarify the government's detention authority with respect to alien minors, amend the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, to provide for the prompt repatriation of all UAC [unaccompanied alien children] who are not victims of human trafficking, and do not express fear of return to their home country, and address the credible fear standard. The current standard has proved to be ineffective in screening out those with fraudulent, frivolous, or legally insufficient claims, and has further strained our overwhelmed immigration system.

Congressional Inaction Allows the Humanitarian Crisis to Worsen

By requiring the release of family units before the conclusion of immigration proceedings, seemingly well-intentioned court rulings and legislation are being exploited by transnational criminal organizations and human smugglers. These despicable smugglers have created an entire illicit industry with untold millions of dollars being made through the sale, rental and recycling of children, utilized by unscrupulous adults to pose as family units.

To fight this activity, Homeland Security Investigations has reassigned hundreds of special agents and intel analysts to Border Patrol facilities, to ferret out fraudulent family units and UAC. These same loopholes also encourage further illegal immigration, as the record numbers indicate. These are not talking points. These are facts, based on my over 25 years of law enforcement experience, and they represent the major challenges currently faced by ICE.

Every day, the dedicated, courageous, professional men and women of ICE work to promoter homeland security, and public safety, by faithfully executing the laws established by Congress, to protect the integrity and credibility of our country's borders, as well as our national security, and the safety of our communities nationwide. The increase in the flow of illegal migrants and the change in those arriving at our borders, are putting the migrants — particularly young children — at a risk of harm from smugglers, traffickers, criminals, and the dangers of a difficult journey, and are placing unsustainable pressure on our entire immigration system.

Ultimately, to solve the border crisis, we must work collectively to insure the integrity of the immigration system as a whole. Failing to adequately resource interior enforcement efforts, such as fugitive operations, detention beds and ICE attorneys, creates nothing more than the appearance of border enforcement, creating a pull-factor that ultimately drives more people to make the dangerous journey to the United States, incentivizes more illegal activity, and delays justice for those with meritorious claims to asylum.

Concluding Remarks

As a nation of laws, we owe it to the citizens of our country, to maintain the integrity of our immigration system, especially when faced with a serious and ongoing national crisis. Day-in and day-out, the women and men of ICE have worked tirelessly, with limited resources and an outdated legal framework, to insure the safety and security of our country. They have done this despite villainization, personal attacks, and the toll it takes on their families and personal lives. They pay this price every day for simply doing their jobs, under the laws passed by Congress. A crisis is at hand, a change is needed, and it is your responsibility as members of the Congress to act.

Thank you again for inviting me to testify today. I am honored and humbled, to represent more than 20,000 American patriots with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. I ask that you provide the funding sought in the President's FY 2020 budget, and look forward to your questions.