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What Stops ICE From Making Mass Arrests?

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A mass arrest campaign would be expensive for ICE, which is only funded to detain a limited Average Daily Population each year.

The idea, out of the White House, was to arrest thousands of undocumented parents and children and deport them from the country in a swift and sudden campaign, meant as a show of force. According to exclusive reporting published by the Washington Post on Monday, a collection of Department of Homeland Security officials say that President Donald Trump and some of his closest advisers pushed for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to complete this sort of mass arrest campaign, but the plan was stymied when then-Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and then-acting ICE director Ronald Vitiello challenged the idea in March. In early April, Trump ousted Nielsen, Vitiello, and a cadre of other high-ranking DHS officials. 

According to the Post, Nielsen and Vitiello resisted the campaign mainly for “operational and logistical” reasons—not ethical ones. Those reasons likely have to do with ICE‘s funding constraints.

As I explained for Pacific Standard in February, each year, Congress funds ICE for a specific number of “detention beds”—in other words, Congress offers a funding limit for the number of people the agency can afford to detain. These “detention beds” are not literal mattresses (ICE essentially always has the physical space to detain more people), but rather a unit for quantifying funding. Congress will offer ICE a set amount of money to detain what’s called its “Average Daily Population,” and, right now, that means that ICE gets enough funding to maintain an ADP of 42,520 people. 

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