Featured Issue: Immigration Detention

The Senate appropriations committee released the DHS appropriations bill which covers ICE and CBP. The Senate proposed reducing ICE funded detention space by 5,550 beds and does not provide funding for any family detention facilities. Importantly, they underscore that family detention is costly and ineffective at deterrence. It also calls for ICE to use an individualized custody determination, in an apparent recognition of ICE’s overreliance of civil immigration detention.

However, this bill, along with the House version, still funds ICE’s custody operations at over $2 billion a year. AILA has called for substantially more reduction in detention funding and for phasing out the use of immigration detention altogether. The next step is for the House and Senate to conference and resolve differences between the chambers’ bills. There is currently a continuing resolution (H.R. 5305, the Extending Government Funding and Delivering Emergency Assistance Act) funding the government through December 3, 2021.

Created in 2003, Immigration Customs & Enforcement (ICE) has over 22,000 full-time employees, with a total annual budget of more than $10 billion. The agency has three core operations: Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA). Immigration enforcement, including taking people into custody, is the largest single area of responsibility for ICE. Inside detention centers, ICE holds noncitizens from the interior of the country and those transferred from the border.

Noncitizens are detained across America in a sprawling network of private and public detention facilities. Most of these facilities operate through contracts between ICE (or, less commonly, the U.S. Marshals Service – USMS) and localities for the purposes of detaining noncitizens. In some cases, localities subsequently sub-contract services for operating detention facilities to private prison companies. In other instances, localities reserve space in local, county, or state jails and prisons for the purposes of detaining immigrants. In all cases, localities are financially incentivized to detain individuals.

Immigration detention facilities, regardless of the type of contracts, have been the sites of serious and repeated allegations of abuse, including allegations of sexual assault, violations of religious freedom, medical neglect, and the punitive use of solitary confinement. In 2020, the U.S. had the highest number of deaths in ICE adult detention since 2005.

Civil immigration detention works mainly to facilitate to deportation. Access to counsel is frequently an issue. As is, the ability to receive crucial legal and medical information in a noncitizen’s primary language. For example, Indigenous, African, and Caribbean speakers often report the lack of interpreter/translation access while in detention.

Detention is overused and too often implemented as part of punitive policies to deter immigration and against noncitizens who are not a flight risk or a threat to public safety, including people seeking protection in this country. For all these reasons and more, AILA is calling for the dramatic reduction and eventual phasing out of immigration detention.

Reducing and Phasing Out Detention

As part of our efforts to reduce and phase out immigration detention, AILA and coalition partners are demanding significant cuts to the ICE budget. Instead, Congress should fund community-based case management programs to be operated by experienced nonprofit immigration and refugee service providers or other nonprofits with experience in case-management focused social service programs. These programs would replace physical custody and “alternative to detention” programs, which rely on electronic monitoring, such as the use of ankle monitors. Provision of legal representation through these providers will also be key.

Advocacy and Resources

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Reports and Briefings


Government Announcements

The Immigration Justice Campaign

The American Immigration Lawyers Association and the American Immigration Council launched the Campaign as a joint initiative to bring new allies and volunteers to the fight for fairness and due process for the tens of thousands of people in immigration detention, most of whom lacked legal counsel.

For more information on how you can connect to this network of advocates and volunteers, and to read the stories of impacted people:

The Immigration Justice Campaign

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Representing Detained Individuals

Until detention is phase out, AILA will continue to provide legal representatives with information and resources to advocate for their detained clients. Please find resources from our national committees, partners, and membership to support this crucial work.

AILA Resources


Government Announcements

Compilation of media and writings on the need to end immigration detention in the United States.

  • Bloomberg News: The Origins of American Immigration Detention – July 20, 2021
    • In this visual explainer, the origins of immigration detention in the U.S. and how it’s taken root as part of our migration system are presented using informative graphics and data.
  • CNN (Opinion): It’s Time to Remember What ‘Asylum’ Really Means – April 5, 2021
    • CNN op-ed by Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Joanne Lin, Director of Amnesty International USA's Advocacy and Government Affairs Department, about why it is time to end the use of expansive immigration detention that has been seen in both Republican and Democratic administrations.
  • The Nation: Black Immigrants Matter - March 24, 2021
    • Jack Herrera interviews Guerline Jozef, founder of Haitian Bridge Alliance, on how mass detention began with the detention of Haitian immigrants and black immigrants continue to face excessively high rates of detention and deportation, including holding the record for the longest and second longest period of time in detention (10 years and 9 years respectively).
  • Think Immigration: Prolonged and Indefinite Detention Is Inhumane and Must End – January 11, 2021
    • In this blog post, Immigration Justice Campaign National Advocacy Manager Katy Murdza describes how ICE is indefinitely detaining people far past the time allowed by law, and why the Justice Campaign will be advocating for the abolition of immigration detention in 2021.
    • Los Angeles Times: 19 Women Allege Medical Abuse in Georgia Immigration Detention – October 22, 2020
      • The Los Angeles Times reports that, according to medical experts, at least 19 women at Georgia's Irwin County Detention Center were pressured into overly aggressive or medically unnecessary surgery. The medical team conducted its review in tandem with a coalition of advocates including AILA.

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    Cite as AILA Doc. No. 21031937.