President Joe Biden and his top administration officials met on March 15 and signed a massive spending bill of $1.5 trillion into law.
This package, which funds federal government agencies for fiscal year 2022, boosts military spending and increases discretionary spending for domestic agencies by $6.7 billion, the biggest increase in domestic discretionary spending in the past four years.
The spending bill also expands the US government’s brutal deportation machine, with an additional $284.7 million for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This includes $57 million more funding for ICE’s contentious Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) office, which is responsible for detaining and removing immigrants.
Overall, the Biden administration is funding ICE with $312 million more than the Donald Trump-era average.
— Stephen Semler (@stephensemler) June 1, 2021
The expansion of these notoriously repressive agencies continues despite the fact that net immigration to the United States has consistently declined since 2016, and substantially dropped from 2020 to 2021, to the lowest levels in decades.
ICE expansion by the numbers
The 2022 spending bill provides funding to keep roughly 20,000 people currently detained by ICE behind bars.
The vast majority – 70% to 80% – of people held by ICE have no criminal record. Many of those who do have minor offenses such as traffic violations.
According to court records, only 0.6% of new cases in 2022 resulted in deportation orders based on a criminal record.
There are presently more than 1.7 million people waiting for immigration court hearings, as the system experiences its largest ever backlog. They are stuck in limbo.
Incarceration of immigrants in private prisons is also growing under Biden.
At the end of 2021, private prison corporation the GEO Group signed a deal with Charlton County in Georgia to expand immigration detention centers from 780 beds to 3,018, located in the city of Folkston, which has just 4,464 residents. Down the road near Lumpkin, Georgia is the Stewart Detention Center, which has a capacity of 1,900 detainees.
The 2022 spending bill also includes an increase of $10 million for ICE’s “Alternative to Detention” (ATD) program. This expands ICE’s surveillance program in immigrant communities by patrolling their neighborhoods.
As of December 2021, there were more than 150,000 people in the ATD program, which received $440 million in taxpayer dollars. That number continues to grow.
The Detention Watch Network notes that the “Biden administration continues to significantly and quickly funnel people, including families, into the ICE ATD program.”
As of April 9, 2022, there are more than 216,000 people monitored by the ATD program, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).
Harlingen, Texas, is home to the largest number of people monitored by ATD: 17,340. This is a region that is 81.8% Latino, and where the poverty rate is 29.1% – more than double the national average of 12.8%.
The second-biggest area is Phoenix, Arizona, with 16,075 people monitored, followed by Los Angeles, California, with 14,726.
The 2022 spending bill likewise puts aside $200 million for the US Department of Homeland Security to develop two permanent migrant processing centers on the southwest border.
These will be “one-stop” processing centers to replace the “soft” tent centers that sprung up during the Donald Trump administration. As a result, that border region will see an increase in law enforcement officers patrolling.
The quotas set by the US government are typically met or surpassed.
In 2018, for example, the quota of ICE detention beds rose from 34,000 to 40,520. In the following year, ICE broke records by detaining more than 55,000 people and applying funding pressure.
The 2022 spending bill maintains its payroll of more than 84,000 ICE and CBP employees and 50,000 border and interior enforcement officers.
Large numbers of ICE and CBP deaths
Thousands of people wait while the US government decides on their immigration status or the possibility of deportation. Some are held behind bars in inhumane conditions in crowded detention centers.
In the fiscal year 2021, across the roughly 200 jails run by ICE, nearly 250,000 people were detained. Yet, many people in the United States are not aware of the astonishing record ICE has of depriving people of access to lawyers, denying them medical attention, and separating them from their families.
These abuses were highlighted in a Detention Watch Network report that showed how ICE refused to release people held during the Covid-19 pandemic, which threatened thousands of lives.
It has been consistently demonstrated that ICE is unable and unwilling to properly care for people who require medical attention. Reports indicate that poor medical care has resulted in nearly half of all deaths in ICE custody.
Today, DWN released a new report that details an emerging, lethal situation in detention–ICE’s lack of sanitation and basic necessities and their troubling record of medical negligence and deaths combined with #COVID19’s risk to public health: https://t.co/KiZ3KooBT9 #FreeThemAll pic.twitter.com/eU73W51xtS
— Detention Watch (DWN) (@DetentionWatch) March 26, 2020
ICE has officially reported 207 deaths of detainees since the agency was created in 2003, in what is likely a very conservative estimate.
Mandated by federal law to publicly report every detainee’s death in their custody, ICE has used a loophole to avoid full accountability.
The Investigative Reporting Workshop found that “ICE underreported fatalities by releasing sick inmates to hospitals, where some died shortly afterward.” IRW also discovered cases of individuals who died after being released and returned to their families.
A tragic case of this was the death of Oscar López Acosta.
While detained in an Ohio immigration center as Covid-19 spread around the country in 2020, López phoned his wife to tell her that he was “dying in silence.”
López battled health issues such as diabetes and was worried about contracting the deadly virus. He had been in ICE custody since 2018 for re-entering the country.
López was released on April 24, 2020, with deteriorating health. On May 10, he died on the couch in his home in Dayton, Ohio. He left behind a wife and children, among them a 9-year-old daughter.
Lourdes Maria Mejia, López’s wife, said that she believes ICE was aware that he was infected, which was later confirmed by a hospital test after coming home.
In addition to the systemic violence of ICE, there is also rampant abuse under US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the county’s largest federal law enforcement agency, which includes Border Patrol.
CBP’s culture of violence, added to its lack of accountability and oversight, has led to a significant loss of life. Yet no one in the agency’s 90-year history has been successfully convicted of killing while on duty.
Moreover, CBP has not consistently reported death-related information to Congress.
After tracking deaths based on media coverage, the Southern Border Communities Coalition found that at least 200 people have died in encounters with CBP agents since 2010.
The organization’s report on CBP-related violence showed that 31% of deaths came from fatal shootings, 29% from deadly car chases, and 23% from medical issues. 2021 the deadliest, with 58 deaths reported.
So far in 2021, 45 deaths resulting from an encounter with #CBP have been reported. No agent has been held accountable, in large part because of the agency’s shadow units which work to protect agents rather than the public. https://t.co/x6aZVVUmFY pic.twitter.com/8mGYSdeenl
— SBCC (@SBCCoalition) December 22, 2021
Militarizing the US-Mexico border
Each of the last four US presidents has left an imprint on the southern border. Biden is already making his.
The US government is further militarizing the border by deploying new technology such as drones, camera-equipped towers, and now headless robot dogs to terrorize people migrating to the US.
This new technology further pushes people seeking asylum or work into deadly alternative routes. This contributed to the deaths of 650 migrants crossing the US-Mexico border in 2021 – the deadliest year since reporting began in 1998.
Despite this high number, the International Organization for Migration noted that “all (migrant death) figures remain undercounts.”
At least 650 migrants died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in 2021, but undercounting migrant deaths has and continues to be a big problem. Correcting this count is important because it helps determine if the U.S. should send more aid to Central America https://t.co/Rr345NjvW1 pic.twitter.com/XwGfOkkYe3
— The Conversation U.S. (@ConversationUS) February 25, 2022
Since Biden’s first day in office, he has pledged to “modernize our immigration system” with “smart” technologies. But these technologies have also been used on people inside the US protesting police killings.
On May 25, 2020, when Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) used a Predator B drone to surveil protesters.
Later, the Department of Homeland Security’s Air and Marine Operations division deployed drones in more than 15 cities to monitor activists protesting against police brutality.
Immigrants’ rights organizations such as Mijente, Just Futures Law, and the Rio Grande Valley No Border Wall Coalition have reported on the high-tech border infrastructure that surveils disproportionately Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities.
The digital border wall consists of aerial drones, underground sensors, and surveillance towers over hundreds of miles capable of detecting humans, vehicles, and animals in all directions.
US agencies also use biometric surveillance technology such as facial recognition, voice recognition, DNA, and iris scans to surveil individuals.
The Israeli military company Elbit Systems, which creates technologies to help spy on and militarily occupy the Palestinian people, is the same company that California Border Protection hired to build towers on the US-Mexico border.
Former Israeli Colonel Danny Tirza, a principal architect, explained the idea behind this mass surveillance: “It’s not enough to construct a wall. You have to construct all the systems around it.”
The move to further militarize the US-Mexico border is fueled by propaganda in the mainstream corporate media, which treats the border as a war zone.
This propaganda narrative claims the border is being militarized to stop criminals, cartels, and “terrorists,” when the truth is that the vast majority of people that Border Patrol face are parents and children, innocent individuals seeking asylum or work.
But CBP and ICE have long tried to deceptively link immigration to terrorism – a tactic that Trump promoted, but which was also used by the George Bush and Barack Obama administrations.
The development of new technologies has reduced the number of workers in various sectors, such as retail, service, and factory jobs, with a corresponding increase in automation. But the opposite is happening with law enforcement: Instead, repressive US agencies keep expanding, and racism is growing along with them.
Meanwhile, each US presidential administration uses more and more taxpayer money to strengthen a system of terror targeting Black and Brown people migrating, despite Census data showing a consistent decline in migration to the United States, to the lowest levels in decades.