National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Washington Continues to Spend Billions on Immigrant Detention

March 05, 2014 - Posted by Communications Intern

By Larry Benenson

On Tuesday, President Obama released his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Regarding immigration, it’s a mixed bag.

While the budget underscores how we’ll benefit from commonsense immigration reform by accounting for savings the Congressional Budget Office has forecast, it continues our dysfunctional and illogical immigration detention system. As in past years, the budget includes billions of dollars for the detention operations of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — part of the Department of Homeland Security — including funding for 30,539 detention beds.

Believe it or not, that’s a slight improvement: The current budget includes nearly $2 billion for immigrant detention — or $5.46 million per day. That money pays for ICE to maintain 34,000 detention beds at a cost of just under $161 per bed per night.

The White House proposed budget for the upcoming year would fund these same operations at $1.808 billion in the next fiscal year, which amounts to just under $5 million per day spent on immigration detention, around a 10 percent decrease. The president’s request for 30,539 detention beds for the incarceration of immigrants is less than the 34,000 mandated by Congress this year but still would require that we spend about $5 million each day on detaining a largely nondangerous immigrant population.

As noted in the August 2013 update of our paper “The Math of Immigration Detention,” the costs of our current dysfunctional, illogical detention system are exorbitant. Simply by using alternatives to detention that cost between 17 cents and 17 bucks per individual per day, we could save billions of dollars. The budget includes a small increase in funding for such alternatives, but we can and should do more.

With our nation’s fiscal health and hundreds of thousands of lives in the balance, replacing our broken immigrant detention system remains a necessary and urgent component of commonsense immigration reform.

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