A Critique



Photograph taken outside of the Etowah County Detention Center (Gadsen, Alabama). The sign in the window reads: “We miss our kids.” Photograph taken by Miguel Angel Carpizo-Ituarte.   The accompanying story can be located on Huffington Post 


What is the Cost to U.S. Taxpayers of Detaining a Person Who Cannot Prove They are in the Country Legally?


  • The average cost of detaining an immigrant is approximately $122/person per day. A typical detention center holds approximately 1100 persons for a minimum 3-4 week period.  However, some detainees are held for as long as six months.
  • The less costly alternatives to detention include a combination of reporting and electronic monitoring.  Studies show that these alternative methods are 90% cheaper and still yield an estimated 93% appearance rate before the immigration courts.[1]
  • Alternatives to detention cost as little as 70 cents/day, which could ultimately save taxpayers up to $1.44 billion a year!

Visitor to ICE

Photograph depicts a family member visiting the Adelanto Detention Facility in Adelanto, California.

Photo credit:  John Moore (11/13/2013 


The current tactics of the Border Patrol are ineffective. The number of migrants crossing the border since 1993 has doubled.[2]


  • 113 people have died while in immigration custody since 2003.[3]

       One of the primary causes for increases in deaths and human smuggling involves the erection of border walls.  The border walls do not discourage migrants from trying to cross the border.  Migrants instead  look for other paths hoping to avoid detection.  The consequence is migrants choosing more remote and dangerous terrains like hot deserts in the warmer climate or freezing cold mountain paths during the winter.   Studies show a direct link between the rerouting of migration and the increases in migrant deaths and human smuggling.[4]

  •  Between 1994 and 2006, more than 4,000 individuals have died trying to cross the border.[5]
  • Among the tactics used by the Border Patrol to discourage migration is the practice of “dusting,” which is the dropping of rocks and dirt on migrants from helicopters as they walk across the desert.  Reports of more humiliating and inhumane tactics include forced exercise and physical and sexual abuse to migrants awaiting deportation.[6]
  • Individuals held for short-term custody (under 72 hours) for immediate deportation are typically subjected to harsh conditions and abuse, without safeguards that assure their medical care or personal safety.    Detainees report of being held at the border in “ice lockers[7],” rooms where the temperature is kept intentionally with the air conditioner at settings below 60 degrees.[8]
  • Systematic physical, verbal, and sexual abuse of unaccompanied immigrant children has been reported.[9]

Use of Bed Quotas:

Another main criticism of existing policy involves the government’s use of the bed quota. Under current ICE regulations there is a required average of holding 34,000 detainees on a daily basis.

  • The justification of the bed quota may be tied to the contractual relationship ICE facilities have with entities like the Corrections Corporation of America and Geo Group, Inc. which profit from the detention and imprisonment of persons. [10] (add cite to article by Cummings)
  • Most of these individuals do not pose a risk to public safety.
  • In June 2013, Congressmen Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Bill Foster (D-IL) led an effort to repeal the bed quota in the House of Representatives by introducing an amendment to the DHS Fiscal Year 2014 Appropriations Bill that would have repealed the bed mandate. The amendment failed to pass despite support from 189 members of Congress (which included 8 Republicans).
  • In September 2013, Representatives Deutch and Foster were joined by 63 other colleagues in sending a letter requesting that the Obama Administration remove the bed quota from the Fiscal Year 2015 appropriations request.
  • In January 2014, Deutch and Foster introduced another amendment to remove the bed quota from the Fiscal Year 2014 Appropriations Bill. Ultimately, the amendment did not receive a vote since appropriations were considered under a closed rule.
  • In February 2014, Foster, Deutch, and 26 other congressmen wrote to the Office of Management and Budget, requesting it remove the detention bed mandate from their Fiscal Year 2015 budget.

Effects of the Bed Quota on Children:

  • Children suffer when their parents are detained because detention facilities are not near urban areas and children are unable to easily visit their parents. [11]
  • Often, it is the primary income earner who is detained in facilities, meaning that 43,000 US citizen children with detained or deported parents experience a decline in their health care.[12]

Use of Secure Communities:

  • Secure Communities is a deportation program which relies on partnership among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. The Department of Homeland Security’s ICE agency is the program manager. It is a criminal database intended to match fingerprints from arrested inmates to fingerprints in an ICE database, allowing local law enforcement to immediately identify whether an arrested individual has criminal or immigration history.[13]
  • Secure Communities has been severely criticized as being “just a smokescreen for achieving record numbers of deportations for an enforcement-only approach” rather than targeting serious criminals.[14]


Aerial view of the Adelanto Detention Center in Adelanto, California. Source:

Aerial view of the Adelanto Detention Center in Adelanto, California. Source: 


 Scholars and civil rights lawyers have argued that using jailed migrants as cheap labor violates the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude except as punishment for crime.[16]


Undocumented workers in a tent city with prison inmates. (AZ)



Photograph of the “Tent City Jail” in the Maricopa County Jail in Arizona, which was established in 1993. Approximately 200 undocumented workers and 2,000 inmates reside in the Tent City. Photograph was taken by John Moore on April 30, 2010.