Ending the “catch and release” policy, which would require those here illegally to remain in custody until they appear in court, will require Trump to double or triple the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s $2.2 billion detention budget to build and staff more jails.

Share story

WASHINGTON — In his first week on the job, President Trump launched an ambitious plan to increase immigration enforcement.

But while there has been much discussion about the cost of building a wall along the 2,000-mile-long border with Mexico, there has been almost none about the financial impact of his proposed end to the “catch and release” policy, which would require those here illegally to remain in custody until they appear in court.

That program will require Trump to double or triple the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s $2.2 billion detention budget, according to calculations by McClatchy. The additional money would go to build and staff more jails.

“You’re talking billions of dollars,” said Muzaffar Chishti, the director of the Migration Policy Institute’s office at the New York University School of Law. “Americans have swallowed a lot in terms of immigration enforcement since 9/11. The issue for the Trump administration is that they’re also trying to reduce the deficit. It’s very difficult to both reduce the deficit and have a huge expansion of immigration machinery.”

More on travel ban


Trump has issued a series of directives aimed at reducing the number of foreigners living illegally in the United States, estimated at 11 million. Those plans include building the border wall and adding 5,000 Border Patrol officers.

Ending “catch and release” also presents a legal challenge. Federal courts have limited long detentions for immigration violations. Based on a 2001 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security agency that is responsible for enforcing immigration laws, must deport or release immigrants within six months after their cases are decided. Immigration lawyers say that deadline is routinely missed.

Moreover, a 2015 federal- court ruling limits the detention of children and parents to just 20 days, hardly enough time to resolve an immigration case.

For the past few days, fear and confusion have gripped immigrant communities across the nation after word spread that federal agents were rounding up hundreds of immigrants in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, New York, California, Illinois and Texas. The scope of the operation remained unclear Sunday.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency said the efforts were “routine” and no different from the targeted arrests carried out under former President Obama.

But Trump took to Twitter to claim credit.

“The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise,” he wrote early Sunday. “Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!”

Among those arrested were a Salvadoran gang member wanted in his home country and a Brazilian drug trafficker, officials said.

Nearly 200 people were arrested in the Carolinas and Georgia. More than 150 more were rounded up in and around Los Angeles, and around 40 were arrested in New York City and surrounding areas, ICE confirmed.

Detaining thousands more people will exacerbate an already long backlog of hundreds of thousands who are awaiting cases in immigration court.

Trump has portrayed his immigration orders as a national-security issue to stop the flow of drugs, crime and foreigners living illegally in the United States. “We are going to restore the rule of law in the United States,” Trump told a crowd of Homeland Security employees after the order was released. “Beginning today, the United States gets control of its borders.”

But it will take more than strong words. Trump will need Congress to pay for his actions.

The anticipated costs to revamp the immigration system are already in the billions. The wall would cost $8 billion to $10 billion, or perhaps much more. Hiring new immigration agents will cost more billions. The Homeland Security Department’s 2017 budget request sought $7 billion to pay more than 40,000 officers.

Trump has received the backing of key lawmakers like House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who called the border wall a “national security issue.”

Determining the total cost of detaining everyone suspected of violating immigration laws is complex.

Homeland Security apprehended 400,000 people last year, but not all of those were held for long. Many were immediately removed. Estimates are that the number of people detained at one time might total 80,000.

“A 2,000-person facility within our existing system is a huge facility. It would take 36 of those to get you close to that estimate,” said Mary Small, policy director at the Detention Watch Network, an advocacy group. “And that’s if you were only talking about what are considered massive facilities within our system.”

The calculations are based on current budget appropriations, congressional estimates and interviews with former administration officials and experts who have studied the order and are familiar with the complex U.S. immigration system.

In Gary, Ill., near Chicago, city leaders sought $80 million to build an 800-bed detention center on 24 acres across from Chicago O’Hare International Airport. It would take 90 such facilities to have enough bed space. Even if the government, built just 12 more like it, the cost would be $1 billion more.

Trump already has taken steps to free up jail space to detain and deport thousands more people. ICE signed a contract late last year to convert a 1,116-bed correction facility in Cibola County, N.M., to an immigration detention center. ICE recently extended a contract with CoreCivic for a 2,400-bed facility in Texas. It’s also in the process of converting a jail in Youngstown, Ohio.

In his executive order, the president dismissed the idea of any protected classes of immigrants and expanded the definition of who is considered a criminal to include not only those who have been convicted of a crime but those who have been charged or even thought to have “committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.”

Last month, the U.S. immigration courts announced they would concentrate on having faster deportation hearings for immigrants held by the federal government.

But the idea of detaining more immigrants has sparked fears that the immigration court system, already balky, will grind to a halt. The nationwide immigration-court system, which handles most immigrant-deportation proceedings, now has a backlog of more than 533,000 cases, and the average wait time for a hearing is about two years, according to data from TRAC, a Syracuse University program that collects data from the government’s databases.

A decade ago, immigration officers searching for specific individuals would often arrest others encountered along the way, a practice that drew criticism from advocates. Under the Obama administration, agents focused more narrowly on specific individuals. ICE now appears to be reverting back to old policies.

For supporters of Trump’s immigration policies, the new and broader approach was welcome news.

“The main thing is to send the message that the immigration laws are actually being enforced again. That, in itself, is an important message that’s got to be sent,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that advocates for tighter controls on immigration.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said the agency is simply enforcing federal law.

Advocates and immigration attorney across the country scrambled to hold seminars and conference calls teaching people their rights.