ICE Director’s Congressional Testimony Demonstrates the Biden Admin is on the Wrong Course on Immigration

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WASHINGTON, D. C. (May 13, 2021) — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Acting Director Tae Johnson testified before the House Appropriations Committee this morning regarding ICE operations and priorities. His prepared statements and responses to congressional questioning evinced an alarming disregard for the rights and dignity of people in our communities who are impacted by ICE detention and enforcement. At the same time, new ICE data revealed that as of May 8, ICE was detaining more than 19,000 people, a tragic increase from the approximately 15,000 who were held at the end of the Trump administration. 

NIJC’s Policy Director Heidi Altman responded as follows:

“Four months into the Biden administration, ICE Acting Director Tae Johnson’s chilling testimony — coupled with ICE’s significantly increased use of detention in recent weeks — raises red flags regarding the administration’s commitment to human rights and compassion in immigration processing. During today’s hearing, Mr. Johnson failed to acknowledge the humanity and civil rights of the people subjected to his agency’s detention and deportation apparatus. This omission is all the more glaring as we learn that ICE is detaining thousands more people today than only weeks ago, in life-threatening conditions that place the people who are detained and surrounding communities at risk.

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“Mr. Johnson also openly embraced Trump-era immigration policies that run afoul of civil rights protections and President Biden’s own commitments. Specifically, he spoke positively about programs that deputize local law enforcement officers to enforce immigration law, despite these programs’ known harms including incentivizing racial profiling and undermining community trust in public institutions. He appeared to anticipate an increase in the administration’s detention of asylum seekers, a policy direction which would be at odds with international human rights norms. In response to critical questions from Representatives Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA 40th), Lauren Underwood (D-IL 14th), Mike Quigley (D-IL 5th), and David Price (D-NC 4th) regarding the health and well-being of immigrant communities and people in ICE detention, Mr. Johnson repeated a false fear-based narrative about public safety, ignoring evidence that deportations and detentions fail to make our communities safer. Finally, Mr. Johnson openly discussed his fear of ‘losing’ the Title 42 border closure policy, which the Trump and Biden administrations have used to expel thousands of asylum-seeking families who arrive at the border seeking protection. In doing so, he affirmed the extent to which the Biden administration continues to rely on false public health justifications to deter asylum seekers from accessing safety.

“The Biden administration inherited immigration processing systems left in disarray by the prior administration, including a border which already had been shut to asylum seekers for months. But with these challenges came the opportunity to reimagine an immigration system that divests from detention and invests in communities. Today’s testimony from Mr. Johnson, and his agency’s increasing use of a dangerous detention system, jarringly suggests that the administration is instead doubling down on Trump-era policies and rhetoric. We are watching, and hoping, for a rapid course correction.”

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