Featured Issue: Immigration Detention and Alternatives to Detention
AILA calls on Congress to significantly reduce and phase out the use of immigration detention for enforcement purposes.
By the Numbers
- Current number of people in detention: At the start of the Biden Administration, there was an average daily population (ADP) of 14,195 people in detention. After two years, there was an ADP of 20,506 people in detention. See TRAC Immigration page for current numbers.
- FY2023 current ICE detention funding: 34,000 ADP at a cost of $2.9 billion
- FY2024 projected average daily cost of detaining an adult immigrant: $157.20/day
- Average daily cost of providing case management for individual family members by a community-based organization (2018 pilot): $14.05
- Average daily cost for participants enrolled in ICE’s Intensive Appearance Supervision Program (ISAP): $8.00
- Deaths at Adult Detention Centers - AILA supplies a continually updated list of press releases announcing deaths in adult immigration detention.
For FY2024 Appropriations, Congress Should ….
- Follow the President’s lead and reduce detention funding to at least 25,000 average daily population or less.
- Explicitly prohibit detention funding from being used to detain families and children in custodial settings.
- Provide $20 million dollars in continued funding the Case Management Pilot Program (CMPP) operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL).
Created in 2003, Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) has over 22,000 full-time employees, with a total annual budget of more than $8 billion. The agency has three core operational directorates: Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA). Housed within the Department of Homeland Security, ICE joins Customs & Border Protection (CBP) in making up the nation’s largest police force.
Immigration enforcement, including taking noncitizens into custody, is the largest single area of responsibility for ICE. ICE detains noncitizens arrested from the interior of the country and those transferred from the border. Twenty-years ago, the average daily population of detained immigrants was approximately 7,000. During the Trump Administration, it reached a height of 50,000 average daily population. Regardless of the circumstances of their first encounter with authorities, 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) and localities for the purposes of detaining noncitizens. In some cases, localities later 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 to increase profit margins from contracts. One key part of the financial equation is the use of noncitizens to clean and maintain facilities in exchange for $1 a day.
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. Several deaths in custody have
Civil immigration detention works mainly to facilitate deportation. While ICE has the authority to allow most noncitizens to continue with their removal cases on the non-detained docket, it often defaults to detention based on alleged “flight risk or threat to public safety.” The vagueness of these concepts frequently works against the liberty interests of noncitizens and there is generally a lack of uniformity when it comes to these discretionary releases. Only a small portion of individuals must be detained under “mandatory detention” laws and even those individuals may be released based on certain exceptions. Lastly, because immigration detention is considered “civil,” indigent noncitizens are not generally provided counsel. As a result, representation rates for noncitizens in detention are as low as 14% and directly correlate with the ability to secure release or long-term protection.
Reducing and Phasing Out 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.
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 run 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
Reports and Briefings
- AILA Policy Brief: Case Management: An Effective and Humane Alternative to Detention - November 2, 2022
- AILA Policy Brief: Moving The Nation Forward by Leaving Immigration Detention Behind - March 25, 2021
- Black Alliance for Just Immigration: Uncovering the Truth: Violence and Abuse Against Black Migrants in Immigration Detention - October 2022
- Oxfam America and the Tahirih Justice Center: Surviving Deterrence: How U.S. Asylum Deterrence Policies Normalize Gender-Based Violence, October 11, 2022
- Law Professor César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, TED Talk, The US can move past immigration prisons—and towards justice, July 27, 2022
- Alternatives to Detention: An Overview – American Immigration Council Fact Sheet, March 17, 2022
- Community Support for Migrants Navigating the U.S. Immigration System - February 26, 2021
- American Immigration Council Special Report: "Measuring In Absentia Removal in Immigration Court," Ingrid Eagly, Esq. and Steven Shafer, Esq. - January 28, 2021
- ICE Provides Data on Detention, Alternatives to Detention, and ICE Facilities – Links to ICE website updated bi-weekly.
- Mapping U.S. Immigration Detention
- Interactive Map of U.S. immigration Detention by Freedom for Immigrants.
- Tracking COVID-19 in Immigration Detention
- A Dashboard of ICE Data collected and updated by Vera Institute of Justice.
- DHS Office of Inspector General: website has search function to view ICE detention audits, inspections, and evaluations completed by DHS OIG.
- ICE FOIA Library: Holds detention facility contracts, facility reviews, among other required posting information.
- The Office of the Immigration Detention Ombudsman Releases 2021 Annual Report – April 29, 2022.
- DHS Advisory Committee Final Report on Family Residential Centers - September 30, 2016.
Legislative and Administrative Advocacy
- AILA Sends Letter to White House Opposing Family Detention – March 13, 2023
- AILA and Partners Send Letter to White House Urging Closure of ICE Detention Sites - November 21, 2022
- Members of Congress Send Letter to DHS on Access to Counsel - November 3, 2022
- Over 100 House Democrats Send Letter to DHS to Halt Immigration Detention - March 10, 2022
- AILA and Partners Send Letter to Congress on Defund Hate’s NGO Cuts for 2023= April 21, 2022
Media Coverage on the Need to End Immigration Detention
- NM Political Report: “A suicide attempt and new report emphasize deteriorating mental health conditions at Torrance County Detention Facility,” – December 12, 2022.
- The Intercept: “The Worst Day of My Life” ICE Jail Nurse Sexually Assaulted Migrant Women, Complaint Letter Says,” - July 13, 2022
- Roll Call: ICE Claims ‘Unabated’ Legal Access in Detention during Pandemic. Legal Groups Dispute ICE’s Report to Congress, Outline Ongoing Concerns. – March 22, 2022.
- Los Angeles Times (Op-Ed): End profit-driven detention in the immigration system as well as federal prisons – December 15, 2021
- 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.
- 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).