Behind the record number of deportations during President Obama’s tenure is a little-known factor known as the “detention mandate,” reported The Washington Post.

It is, essentially, a congressional directive calling for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to keep some 34,000 beds in federal detention centers, as well as other facilities in which people are held for ICE, filled each day.

The filled-beds quota, the newspaper said, has risen since its establishment in 2006, when conservative lawmakers pressed for it, arguing that the United States was not doing enough to track down and deport people who should not be in the country.

The point of contention now, however, is that illegal immigration has leveled off, even declining at times, and immigration officials have been casting a wider net in order to keep the tens of thousands of beds filled, the Post said.

It is aiming to meet the mandate, for instance, by going after immigrants who once were considered “low-risk” – such as those who had no criminal records and did not pose a national security threat. And so now, the newspaper reported, federal authorities are pursuing people, including legal residents, who are taken into custody for such things as driving while intoxicated or after a traffic stop.

The Department of Homeland Security, the Post said, denies that it is arbitrarily targeting people just to meet the mandate.

Because many people who are arrested and detained are low-risk, many immigration judges end up ordering them released. But, the paper noted, many spend months in custody, despite the option of less costly ways of keeping them monitored by authorities.

Federal spending on detention and deportation has reached $2.8 billion a year, more than twice what it was in 2006, the newspaper said. House Republicans fought to set the mandate at 34,000 detainees a day and “ordered ICE officials to spend nearly $400 million more than they requested,” the paper said.

Detention supporters defend the policy.

“We’re not forcing poor little people to be in there to meet a quota,” said Rep. John Carter, a Texas Republican, according to the Post. “The law is the law, and none of these people are being held contrary to the law.”

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