U.S. authorities are transferring into federal prisons about 1,600 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees, officials told Reuters on Thursday, in the first large-scale use of federal prisons to hold detainees amid a Trump administration crackdown on people entering the country illegally.
An ICE spokeswoman told Reuters five federal prisons will temporarily take in detainees awaiting civil immigration court hearings, including potential asylum seekers, with one prison in Victorville, California, preparing to house 1,000 people.
Officials of a prison employees’ union said the influx of ICE detainees, who were arrested at the border or elsewhere in the United States by immigration officials, raises questions about prison staffing and safety.
Union leaders at prisons in California, Texas and Washington state who spoke to Reuters said they had little time to prepare for the large intake of detainees.
At Victorville, the prison getting the largest number of people, workers are moving about 500 inmates in a medium-security facility to make space, said John Kostelnik, local president for the American Federation of Government Employees Council of Prison Locals union.
“There is so much movement going on,” said Kostelnik. “Everyone is running around like a chicken without their head.”
In addition to Victorville, other prisons that have received or will receive detainees include ones in Washington state, Oregon, Arizona and Texas.
ICE spokeswoman Dani Bennett said ICE is “working to meet the demand for additional immigration detention space” due to a surge in illegal border crossings and a U.S. Department of Justice zero-tolerance policy.
“To meet this need, ICE is collaborating with the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), private detention facility operators and local government agencies,” she said in a statement to Reuters.