The Detention Bed Quota – Using Taxpayer Money to Violate Basic Human Rights

Immigrant Detention

I was happy to run across a story on the BBC website last week that talked about the immigrant detention bed quota, a policy which I believe to be one of the most unjust and wasteful uses of taxpayer money out there. I wish this issue was in the news more.

The detention bed quota is a regulation enacted by Congress in 2009 that requires Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to maintain at least 34,000 individuals in immigration detention each day.  This means that thousands of people who pose no risk to the safety of our communities are detained unnecessarily so that ICE can maintain this arbitrarily chosen number at U.S. taxpayer expense.  In fact, over half of the immigrants detained between 2009 and 2011 had no criminal history whatsoever, and were not statutorily required to be detained.  ICE houses them at a cost of approximately $159.00 per day, even though they have a number of other options to ensure that immigrants appear at immigration court hearings, including ankle monitors and supervised parole, which would run the government between 70 cents and $22 per day.

Money is one issue, but the bigger outrage of this policy is that it separates immigrants from their families and jobs for weeks or months for no logical reason. Immigration violations are civil – not criminal – so the detention imposed is not supposed to be punitive. That is very hard to believe, however, when I hear stories of clients who are detained for extended periods of time in facilities that may be hundreds of miles from their homes. This family separation can be incredibly destructive to children, marriages, and the financial stability of entire families.

The immigrant detention bed quota makes no sense for U.S. taxpayers and is devastating for the families affected. So what’s the point of the policy? Who’s winning? Well, in the for-profit prison industry, business is booming.