The Best Way to Reduce ICE's Detention Costs? Speed Deportations

By David North on October 11, 2011

If there is an elephant in the room, and that worries you, you might open the door and send him back to where he belongs.

That common-sense approach, however, does not enter the thinking of Human Rights First, an advocacy organization that has just published a comprehensive examination of the ICE detention system called "Jails and Jumpsuits".

Although there is a lot of information about the costs of the system to the taxpayers – more than $2 billion a year – there seems to be no discussion of the most effective way to reduce those costs: speeding up deportations.

There would appear to be two reasons for this massive oversight: first, the report is written from the point of view of the aliens, not the broader American society, and thus the whole idea of deportation is not a welcome one to the authors.

Secondly, and more justifiably, the report focused on the detention facility system itself, while it is the courts and the legal system generally that have the say regarding the speed of deportations. There are, of course, problems in the ICE detention system, as there are in any program that involves large numbers of people with limited rights, such as in jails, penitentiaries, and the few remaining mental health institutions. These detention difficulties are covered in detail in this 80-page report.

The following line in the report (p. 13) provides both some useful information and a good sense of the biases of the authors:

In 2010 alone, ICE detained approximately 363,000 asylum seekers and other immigrants – a 53 percent increase since 2005, when that number was 238,000." (Emphasis added.)

In addition to the expected lets-treat-the-inmates-better approach, the document makes interesting dollars-and-cents comments on the use of local jails to house illegal aliens, as opposed to ICE's own facilities:

Even ten years ago the then-new DHS recognized that "utilizing a variety of small local jails increases cost and transportation needs". Half of all detainees today are still held in local jails. An immigration detention system dependent on jails is not cost-effective.

The report recommends that DHS "Stop Using Prisons, Jails and Jail-like facilities" but there is, of course, a trade-off. If aliens are held in local jails they are likely to be near their family; but if they are sent off to one of ICE's more distant facilities, usually located in low-wage, lightly populated rural areas, the detainees are distant from families and immigration lawyers, and Human Rights First is opposed to that as well.

There seems to be little concern in the report that the detained population of "asylum seekers and other immigrants" contains very large numbers of people with substantial criminal records, over and above their violations of the INA.

An article by Matthew Kolken in the October 6 issue of Immigration Daily called the report to my attention.