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. http://i.huffpost.com/gen/1702289/thumbs/o-MIGUEL-ANGEL-CARPIZOITUARTE-900.jpg?16.  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. The photograph was taken by John Moore on November 14, 2013. 

Detention is Ineffective:

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

Unnecessary Mistreatment of Border Crossers and Migrant Deaths at the Border

  • 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]
  • Examples of reasons to oppose Secure Communities include the practice of using it to remove persons who have committed traffic offenses.[15]

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. 


In November of 2008, the Border Network for Human Rights, the Border Action Network, and the U.S.-Mexico Border and Immigration Task Force published recommendations for policy along the US-Mexico border.  The Task Force’s recommendations included: [17]

(1)    Enforce community security through focusing on dangerous criminals, traffickers, and exploiters rather than non-threatening immigrants;

(2)    Implement policies that require agencies to be accountable to the communities in which they operate and improve procedures by offering better human rights training to officers, strengthening complaint procedures, and decreasing racial profiling;

(3)    Overhaul complaint and oversight procedures;

(4)    Halt the construction of the border wall, which is both not cost effective and ineffective at keeping individuals from crossing the border;

(5)    Refrain from using federal and state laws and resources to pressure local agencies into immigration-enforcement roles;

(6)    Not using the military to enforce civilian law.

In 2012, the Woodrow Wilson center compiled recommendations for strengthening US-Mexico border relations, which focused on the political and economic ties between the two countries. The recommendations included:[18]

(1)    Create a Joint North American Production and Export Platform by negotiating trade agreements as a bloc and make border crossings more efficient;

(2)    Support Mexico’s judicial reform, by training public officials and targeting organized crime;

(3)    Improve the American immigration system by focusing on the visa system;

(4)    Promote regional economic integration;

(5)    Develop an education exchange that increases Mexico’s access to graduate education;

(6)    Focus on energy cooperation in North America;

(7)    Employ risk-management techniques at border ports;

On February 20, 2013, Ray Walsler, Ph.D. and Jessica Zuckerman wrote an issue brief for the Heritage Foundation, in which they suggested policy reforms regarding the U.S.-Mexico border enforcement program.  Their policy suggestions included [19]:

  • That the Obama Administration and Congress should develop a broad plan for U.S.-Mexican relations, which coordinates law enforcement, judicial, and military assets so that transnational criminal organizations, gangs, human traffickers, and terrorists may be targeted.
  • The Obama Administration and Congress should increase public-private partnerships to develop smarter border infrastructure and enhance deployment key technologies to aid the Border Patrol in enforcing the border.
  • That the U.S. should foster U.S.-Mexico security and immigration accords through specific agreements, protocols, and laws that strengthen the relationship between the two governments in order to regularize and expedite legal movements across the border and increase cross-border disincentives to illegal activities.


[3]  See note 1, FIRRP.

[4]Border Enforcement and Short Term Detention,” Detention Watch Network.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Journey of an Immigrant, A Delegation produced by education partners Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera and Women on the Border (WOB) which included a tour of the South Texas Detention Center at Pearsall, Texas (vicinity of San Antonio),  May 16, 2014.  Thirteen delegates included U.S. citizens young and old, three university professors, several university students,  activists Quakers, retired persons and a foreign graduate student from Spain.  In a heavily guarded 90 minutes experience they were granted access to meet and interview a number of detainees who had signed up to meet with the visitors.  A regular statement of the detainees about what it had been like when they were caught by the Border Patrol was their being placed in rooms they referred to as “ice lockers.”  The air conditioning is kept at extremely cold levels, detainees are deprived of warm clothing and are fed one sandwich per day.  See Reflection on the Voices of an immigration Detainee by Elvia Arriola (Aug. 2014).

[8] Ibid, Delegate Reports, Tour of South Texas Detention Center (Pearsall/San Antonio), May 16, 2014.

[10]  Eliminacion de las Cuotas de Camas (“Eliminate the Detention Bed Quota.” National Immigrant Justice Center. Spring 2014.

[11] Eliminacion de las Cuotas de Camas (Eliminating Bed Quotas), National Immigrant Justice Center.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Mahwish Khan, “Criticism of the Obama Administration’s Secure Communities Deportation Program Has Hit New High.” America’s Voice, August 16, 2011.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.