Nearly 9,000 immigrants detained by federal immigration authorities have passed an initial government test demonstrating well-founded fears that if they are deported to their home countries they will face persecution, according to data released by officials on Wednesday.
Immigration officials in the Donald Trump administration have come under increased scrutiny from congressional leaders and advocates as Immigration and Customs Enforcement expands the number of detainees in its custody to record levels. While the agency is funded to house around 42,000 immigrant detainees, it has far surpassed that capacity with more than 55,530 inmates in its facilities as of Aug. 10.
According to data released Wednesday, 8,969 detainees had passed either a credible fear or reasonable fear interview administered by US Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum officers. In the screenings, immigrants must prove there is a significant possibility that they have a valid fear of persecution or torture in their home country.
It’s the first step in a long process to prove persecution in their home country and gain protections in the US, one that has come under scrutiny from Trump administration officials.
The figures, last updated July 31, provide further fodder to those who say the agency is detaining individuals at an unnecessary level. It also marks a clear shift from practices under the Barack Obama administration, according to some former Department of Homeland Security officials.
Kevin Landy, the former head of ICE’s Office of Detention Policy and Planning under the Barack Obama administration, said that under the former president, the agency released over 80% of those who passed initial asylum screenings.
“Especially considering how overcrowded its detention facilities are, ICE should be releasing far more of these asylum-seekers,” he said. “We already knew that Trump had reversed the Obama administration's reforms, but these extraordinarily high numbers are shocking.”
One former ICE official told BuzzFeed News that the numbers were concerning.
“This number is highly problematic given the extremely high population in detention,” the former official said. “ICE should be strategically using detention resources and focusing on those who need to be detained. The cost alone for this population is over $1 million a day with the current bed rate.”
The agency has once again come under criticism following a recent operation targeting chicken processing plants in Mississippi, where ICE officers arrested nearly 700 suspected unauthorized workers.
Nearly 400 of those workers were sent to detention facilities, including an ICE Processing Center in Pine Prairie, Louisiana. It’s there where last week more than 100 immigrants were pepper-sprayed after they demonstrated in the detention center’s recreational yard.