The Real Costs, Consequences, and Human Face of Immigration Detention
The current U.S. immigration detention systemlacks clear objectives, encourages the needless confinement of individuals, overburdens an already strained immigration system, and wastes resources
- Over the past decade there has been analarming increase in the use of immigration detention. From 2001 to 2010, the number of immigrants held in immigration detention each year has nearly doubled from 209,000 per year to over 363,000.
- Although Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is supposed to prioritize its limited detention resources on the most serious offenses, 65% of all immigrants who were detained and deported from 1996 to 2006 were detained after being arrested for non-violent offenses.
- The Obama administration has started to make efforts to fix this arbitrary use of immigration detention, but change has been slow. In 2010, over half of immigrantsheld in detention had no criminal records.
The majority of immigrant detainees are held in bed space that ICE rents from state and local jails and private corporations. The 2011 ICE detention standards that are in place to guide operation of these facilities are not binding regulations and have not been applied to many of the state and local jails and private detention facilities under contract with ICE.
Without the threat of sanctions, compliance with these standards has been low and violations of these standards are pervasive.
Recent reports indicate that the unchecked growth in immigration detention over the past decade has resulted in inhuman treatment, sub-standard health care, physical and sexual abuse, and overcrowding.
The Costs: Human and Monetary
The current misuse of mandatory and prolonged detention practices encourages arbitrary confinement and denies the detainees the most basic elements of due process.
- The decision to detain individuals in jail-like facilities is discretionary. Nevertheless, immigration judges and ICE officers rarely exercise this discretion, and individuals who are not a flight risk or a danger to the public are wrongly detained.
- As a result, tens of thousands of individuals who pose no safety or flight risk, and thus could be released on bond, parole, or placed in more human alternatives to detention programs, are held in immigration detention each year.
- Detention has a direct adverse impact on securing legal representation. In 2010, less than 20% of detainees had legal representation.
- An alarming number of these individuals are detained for unnecessarily long periods of time, often in remote facilities, far away from their families and counsel.
This arbitrary and needless confinement causes unnecessary suffering for the individuals, their families, and the community. In particular, studies show that detention and deportation of parents significantly impacts children’s physical and emotional health, as well as their intellectual and social development. A recent report estimates that there are more than 5,100 children currently in foster care whose immigrant parents have either been deported or detained.
The increasing use of immigration detention is also an unnecessary drain on government resources and taxpayer dollars.
- In 2012, DHS maintained a record high daily detention capacity of 34,000 beds, spending $2 billion. As of November 2011, the U.S. government spent approximately $166.00 per day to hold on immigrant in detention.
- This is 18 times greater than the $8.88/day it costs for more efficient and human alternatives to detention.
- Immigration detention was expected to cost taxpayers almost $1.7 billion in 2010.
The Incarceration of People for Profit
Theprivate prison industry, not the American public, is themain beneficiaryof the ever-expanding, unregulated immigration detention system in the U.S.
- Since 2011, private corporations have gained increasing control over immigration detention facilities and continue to bring in record profits. In 2009, approximately half of the immigrant detainee population was housed in private facilities.
- In 2010, Corrections Corporations of America (CCA), the largest owner and operator of privatized correctional and detention facilities in the U.S. grossed more than $1.7 billion in total revenue. The GEO Group’s contracts with ICE increased from $33.6 million in 2005 to $163.8 million by the end of 2010. These companies aggressively lobby DHS and Congress; CCA and GEO spent more than $20 million on lobbying from 1999-2009.
The private prison industry is committed to generating money for its investors. As a result it feeds off of government policies that keep more people behind bars for longer periods of time and has incentives to cut corners.
Private immigration detention facilities are particularly ripe for abuse, because there is little federal oversight to ensure that applicable standards are enforced.
- Since 2003, there have been 24 deaths in facilities operated by CCA.
- In May 2010, a CCA guard at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Texas was convicted in state and federal court of sexually abusing female detainees while transporting them to the airport.
Georgia houses three privately run immigration detention facilities:
- Stewart Detention Center: Stewart is a 1,752 bed facility in Lumpkin, Georgia, and currently the largest immigration detention facility in the country. It is owned and operated by CCA. Complaints at Stewart range from inadequate access to interpreters and counsel, poor hygiene, and verbal and physical abuse to inadequate medical care. In March 2009, Roberto Medina-Martinez, a 39-year-old immigrant held at Stewart died of a treatable heart infection. A lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Georgia in March 2012 charges that negligent acts and omissions of the government or its agents cause the death of Mr. Medina. An investigation conducted following the death revealed that the physician systematically failed to conduct the required review of the medical exam information.
- North Georgia Detention Center: NGDC is a 502-bed facility in Gainesville, Georgia, also operated by CCA. Complaints at NGDC include inadequate medical care, inadequate living conditions including failure of CCA staff to provide female detainees with proper hygiene items, as well as work performed at subminimum wages.
- Irwin County Detention Center: Irwin, owned by Municipal Correction LLC and operated by Detention Management LLC, is based in Ocilla, Georgia, and has a capacity for 512 immigrant detainees. Serious and systematic problems with treatment of detainees at Irwin range from inadequate medical care and prohibitive cost of phones to inadequate access to law library and legal materials. In April 2012, Municipal Corrections LLC was forced into bankruptcy proceeding by its creditors after it failed to house enough detainees to pay its bonds.
Alternatives to Detention
In light of the costs and devastating effects this system has had over the years, it is critical that ICE only use immigration detention when necessary.
Alternatives to Detention Programs (ATD) generally provide for the release of individuals from detention with additional supervisory measures, such as in-person reporting or reporting by phone, to monitor the individual after release. DHS’s pilot programs for ATDs achieved an appearance rate of 94%, far in excess of the targeted 58%.
ATD programs cost, on average, $8.88/day per individual, which is about $157.00/day less than what it costs to detain individuals. DHS itself states: “ATD is a cost-effective alternative to secure detention of aliens in removal proceedings.”
If you are interested in learning more about this topic, read the ACLU of Georgia's recent publication Prisoners of Profit. You can download the publication by clicking on the photo below.