Featured Issues, Advocacy & Media

Featured Issue: Immigration Detention and Alternatives to Detention

1/17/24 AILA Doc. No. 21031937. Detention & Bond, Removal & Relief

AILA calls on Congress to significantly reduce and phase out the use of immigration detention for immigration enforcement purposes. Detention is costly, leads to inefficiencies in processing cases, and has a long track record of human rights abuses. Community-based case management services and legal representation is more humane and should be offered to noncitizens to support their compliance of immigration obligations.

By the Numbers

  • At the start of the Biden Administration, there was an average daily population (ADP) of 14,195 people in detention. After the lifting of Title 42 public health expulsion order and expansion of expedited removal proceedings, there were 36,263 at the end of 2023. See TRAC Immigration page for current detention 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. However, the cost varies depending on the type of facility, what medical is offered, and geographic location. For example, per ICE’s FY24 budget justification, a “bed” in El Paso costs $216.65.
  • Average daily cost of providing case management for individual family members by a community-based organization (2018 pilot): $14.05
  • FY2023 ICE ATD enrollment numbers: 194,427  
  • 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 ICE press releases announcing deaths in adult immigration detention. Note: there can be delays in ICE’s reporting of deaths and there have been instances of seriously ill individuals released from ICE custody, whose deaths are not included in this list.  



In Future Appropriations, Congress Should ….

  1. Reduce detention funding to at least 25,000 average daily population or less.
  2. Explicitly prohibit detention funding from being used to detain families and children in custodial settings.
  3. Provide continued funding of the Case Management Pilot Program (CMPP) operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL). It is currently operating in 5 cities and additional funding will allow it to advance from the pilot and evaluation stage. 
  4. Conduct robust oversight of past Congressional appropriations transparency requirements and continue to require ICE disclose and publish information relating to detention contracts, inspection process and reports, detention data, and policies for the alternatives to detention program.


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 been found to have been preventable. Conditions in ICE custody have been described as “barbaric” and “negligent” by DHS experts.

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. Typically, people in detention are being processed via “expedited removal,” regular immigration proceedings, or reinstatement proceedings (reinstatement of prior removal order).   

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.

Reports and Briefings


Government Reports

Legislative and Administrative Advocacy

Media Coverage on the Need to End Immigration Detention