Bush shorts money, beds for illegal immigrants, inspector general says


WASHINGTON (AP) – It will take nearly 35,000 more jail beds to end a much-criticized “catch and release” program for dangerous illegal immigrants in the United States, but the Bush administration has not budgeted enough to do that, the Homeland Security Department’s internal watchdog said Friday.

The White House proposes spending $386 million, which would pay for 6,700 beds but not enough to detain all high-risk aliens, Inspector General Richard L. Skinner said in a 52-page report.

The new report highlighted shortfalls in deporting illegal immigrants who commit crimes in the United States or are from countries that sponsor terrorism or protect terrorists.

It also warned of “significant risks” posed by the inability of U.S. customs and border enforcement officers to identify whether immigrants released from jail were linked to terror groups.

In an administration pledge to crack down on illegal immigrants, the Homeland Security Department has vowed to end “catch and release” – ticketing and freeing people in the United States illegally instead of detaining them – by fall.

Skinner’s report said 36 percent of the 774,112 illegal aliens apprehended in the U.S. during the past three years were released because there weren’t enough beds or money available to hold them while officials determined their immigration status.

The number of illegal aliens who were caught increased by 19 percent from 2002 through 2004, but the number of beds for them actually dropped by 6 percent, the report added.

The bed space, personnel and funding shortages, among other factors, have “created an unofficial ‘mini-amnesty’ program for criminal and other high-risk aliens,” the report concluded.

The Senate late Thursday approved adding 20,000 beds to the estimated 19,000 currently available as part of a broad immigration-border security bill moving toward a final vote next week. A House bill also up for a vote next week would add 4,870 beds next year.

On the Net:

IG report: http://www.dhs.gov/interweb/assetlibrary/OIG-06-33-Apr06.pdf