The Outdated Immigrant Detention System
By Katharina Obser
ICE has worked to develop and implement some critical improvements to the system, though additional reforms remain needed. One overarching obstacle overshadowing much of this: the bed “mandate.” As Congress returns from the brink of the fiscal cliff, and as a new candidate prepares for confirmation to lead the Department of Homeland Security, now is a key moment to consider responsible ways to shrink the federal budget.
The bed “mandate” requires that each night a minimum number of people have to be detained in the system – at least that’s how some members of Congress interpret DHS appropriations language. Mandating what is effectively a quota of beds flies in the face of American values and best practices in the criminal justice system, and precludes a meaningful individualized assessment of the need to detain. And yet it’s the norm for our immigration detention system, where every day 34,000 beds in jails and jail-like facilities around the country are filled with immigration detainees, whether or not that actually makes sense. The price tag to the U.S. taxpayer? Around $2 billion per year, or more than $5 million per day.