National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America


Immigration Detention

The Issue

When an undocumented immigrant is apprehended by immigration authorities, he or she is typically held in a detention facility before being deported. The explosion of the detained population is costing taxpayers billions of dollars. Nonviolent immigration violators are warehoused in facilities built to hold dangerous criminals, even though there are alternatives to detention programs that are less expensive and more appropriate for non-violent offenders. The disparate network of contract jails and private prison facilities used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement is difficult to manage, and there are frequent reports of abuse of immigrant detainees. Such abuse includes lack of adequate health care and even negligence that has led to a number of deaths in detention.

ICE has launched a series of reforms of the immigration detention system, but continuing problems has prompted a rash of legislation. The real problem, however, is that hundreds of thousands of immigrants who have committed no crimes, and who have been working in the U.S. for years are being arrested, detained, and deported. Instead of jailing these immigrants at great expense, we should reap the benefits and the tax revenue that would accrue if we allowed them to work legally. Some members of Congress, however, feel that the only problem with the immigration detention system is that it is not big enough, and these members of Congress are more than willing to spend ever greater sums of taxpayer dollars for more detention space.


  • Death in Custody Reporting Act
    H.R. 2189, introduced by Representative Robert Scott (D-VA) on June 15, 2011.
    This bill would establish a requirement that all states that receive criminal justice assistant grants from the federal government would have to report quarterly to the Attorney General about deaths of incarcerated individuals in local and county jails. It would also require all federal law enforcement agencies to make an annual report on deaths of inmates in their custody. (Current list of co-sponsors.)

  • Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act
    H.R. 933, introduced by Congresswoman Lucille Royball-Allard (D-CA) and Jared Polis (D-CO) on March 3, 2011.Among other things, this bill would require DHS to convene a detention advisory committee; promulgate regulations regarding detainee care and custody; implement secure alternatives to detention programs; and provide protective detention alternatives for specified categories of vulnerable aliens. (Current list of co-sponsors.)

  • Child Trafficking Victims Protection Act
    H.R. 2235, introduced by Congresswoman Lucille Royball-Allard (D-CA) on June 16, 2011. This bill would require special training for all DHS personnel who come into contact with unaccompanied alien children. It would establish protections for such children, including prompt placement with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, qualified resources at appropriate ports of entry, confidentiality and access to counsel. (Current list of co-sponsors.)

  • Keep our Communities Safe Act of 2011
    H.R. 1932, introduced by Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX) on May 23, 2011. This legislation would allow DHS to hold an individual indefinitely, subject to a six month review, if the individual has a final removal order and cannot be removed under certain circumstances. (Current list of co-sponsors.)


On September 20, 2011, H.R. 2189 passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 398-18. It is currently waiting to be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee. On October 18, 2011, H.R. 1932 was passed out of the Judiciary Committee in the House by a vote of 17-14.

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