The head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Wednesday, that at current deportation rates, it would take 140 years to remove all the illegal immigrants who came in during the border surge of the last two years.

Matt Albence, ICE’s acting director, said the border surge over the last two years added 900,000 cases to ICE’s non-detained docket, which now totals more than 3.3 million.

That far outstrips the agency’s ability to track down and deport people, he told the House Appropriations Committee.

“We arrested about 2,500 non-criminal fugitives last year. If we do that, based on just the numbers that came in the last two years, it would take us about 140 years to clear up that backlog,” Mr. Albence said.

He was defending ICE’s significant budget increase request for fiscal 2021, which envisions an average of 60,000 detention beds each day.

That’s up dramatically from the 34,000 beds the Obama administration had for its final years, and nearly 15,000 more than Congress approved for this current year.

“Without additional resources to actually effectuate a judge’s removal orders, we will have an immigration enforcement and court system in which billions of dollars a year are spent to obtain orders, that are not worth the paper they are written on,” Mr. Albence told the House Appropriations Committee.

Democrats and Republicans were skeptical of the proposed increase in the number of beds.

Rep. Kay Granger, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said the border situation has improved, yet the backlog of those on ICE’s docket has gotten worse.

“Don’t you have to stop at some point and say is this the right process?” the Texas Republican said.

ICE ended fiscal 2017 with 2.4 million people on its docket but loose in communities. At the end of fiscal 2018 it had grown 2.6 million. At the end of 2019 it was a record 3.3 million cases, Mr. Albence said.

Of those, more than 600,000 are fugitives, meaning they’ve been ordered removed and are actively defying the order.

Mr. Albence said the growing docket backlog is caused by the border and the migrant surges of 2018 and 2019.

He said newly arrived illegal immigrants are in Customs and Border Protection custody for days, then get transferred to ICE where it can take years to process their cases. They remain on ICE’s docket until they win relief or are ordered deported.

He pointed to a pilot program from four years ago, the now-defunct Family Case Management Program, in which illegal immigrant families were released but given intense counseling. That program is a popular talking point for ICE critics, who say it’s better than detention.

But Mr. Albence said 80% of the people who were in that program are still awaiting immigration court adjudications.

He said that’s why Congress needs to expand the number of ICE lawyers, who present cases to immigration judges. The number of judges has risen, but lawmakers have refused ICE’s requests for more attorneys.

Mr. Albence also revealed that one-third of all people who come forward to act as foster family sponsors for illegal immigrant children were themselves illegal immigrants with criminal records.

And he pushed back against Democrats’ claims that his deportation officers are scaring immigrants away from cooperating with local police for fear they’ll be snared.

“It’s a lot of NGOs and the like that are out there are stirring this up that we’re arresting the victims. It’s just not the case,” he said.

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