Sen. James Inhofe said he will introduce legislation aimed at preventing illegal immigrants who make it over the U.S. border from disappearing into the country due to overcrowded detention centers.
Inhofe said U.S. detention facilities release thousands of illegal immigrants into the United States with a court date with an immigration judge, and they almost never return to attend.
“What they should do is send them back to the country they came from until their court date,” the Oklahoma Republican told the Washington Examiner. “But as it is now, they just give them a court date and they turn them over to church groups and others and they just disappear and they end up in our society.”
Inhofe spent the day Monday near Brownsville, Texas, along the southern border. He met with officials at the Port Isabel Service Processing Center in Los Fresnos. The 1,200-bed facility receives illegal immigrants who make it over.
The senator said facility officials could not provide information about the immigrants it releases when new immigrants are delivered to the center and the beds are needed.
Inhofe will introduce a bill that would call for processing asylum seekers in Mexico before they cross the border, which would ensure applicants appear for their hearings before they enter into the U.S.
A second bill Inhofe said he plans to introduce would place limits on where where illegal immigrants can go if they are released from a detention center, which he said would increase the court appearances.
Last year, a former Miami immigration judge, Mark H. Metcalf, authored a report claiming nearly 1 million illegal immigrants may not have followed final deportation orders and may be in the United States. The report, authored for the low-immigration advocacy group Center for Immigration Studies, said the immigration courts face a significant backlog.
Metcalf said 46,000 illegal immigrants fail to show up for court cases each year and are presumably living illegally in the United States.
But many immigration rights groups oppose expanding detention facilities, where they say conditions are inhumane and the cost to taxpayers is steep.
President Trump pitched an expansion of immigration detention facilities but the plan was not funded in the fiscal 2018 spending bill he signed last week.
The American Civil Liberties Union wants them abolished.
“The “lock ’em up” approach to detention is contrary to common sense and our fundamental values,” ACLU officials wrote on their issues blog. “In America, liberty should be the norm for everyone — and detention the last resort.”