What is Mandatory Detention?
Until 1988, the United States abided by three international agreements that protected the rights of immigrants.
- Article 9 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights declares that no one should be subjected to arbitrary arrests and detention.
- Article 14 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights grants asylum Seekers the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution.
- Article 31-1 of the International Refugee Convention states that penalties should not be imposed on refugees on account of their illegal entry into a nation.
In 1996, Congress passed and President Clinton Signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, now known as IIRIRA. The law mandated stringent interdiction and interception methods, it mandated indefinite detention of asylum seekers, and restricted the discretion of immigration judges in granting release.
Under expedited removal, asylum seekers and others arriving in the US without proper documentation must be detained without bond until their cases are reviewed. First Friends was initially formed to visit victims of this law.
Mandatory detention can also be imposed on any non-citizen, regardless of legal status, who has ever been convicted of a crime, regardless of the seriousness of the offence, or the fact that any sentence for the crime has already been served. Today, persons detained under this statute provide the majority of persons visited by IRATE & First Friend’s visitors.
After September 11, 2001, Congress expanded the categories of people subject to mandatory detention and the Immigration and Naturalization Service was moved into the newly formed “Department of Homeland Security,” and was renamed Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE. The fear initiated and nurtured after 9/11 provided virtually unrestricted budgets for mandatory detention. The ICE budget for detention in 2010 was $1.7 billion
***Most of the facts below are excerpted from the National Immigration Forum's "The Math of Immigration Detention" published August, 2011.
Currently almost 400,000 are detained annually for immigration violations in the U.S.
More than 2,000 immigrants are held in mandatory detention in the state of New Jersey. Recently, Essex County signed a contract with ICE to house as many as 1,700 immigrant detainees.
The Obama Administration's most recent request to Congress for immigration detention alone amounts to $5.5 million per day spent on immigration detention (the House increased that amount). The current cost to detain an immigrant is approximately $166 per day at a capacity of 33,400 detention beds.
Less wasteful alternatives to detention range in cost from as low as 30 cents to $14 a day. If only individuals convicted of serious crimes were detained and the less expensive alternative methods were used to monitor the rest of the detained population, taxpayers could save more than over $1.6 billion—over an 80% reduction in annual costs. The government should focus on expanding its alternatives to detention program and reforming its immigration laws. An examination of the numbers makes it clear—the dollars spent to detain immigrants do not add up to something that makes sense.
The expansion of the immigrant detention system has benefitted the private prison industry. Corrections Corporations of America (CCA) is the largest ICE detention contractor. It operates a total of fourteen ICE-contracted facilities with a total of 14,556 beds.19 GEO Group, Inc., the second largest ICE contractor, operates seven facilities with a total of 7,183 beds.20 In 2010, CCA and GEO reported annual revenues of $1.69 billion and $1.17 billion respectively. Furthermore, GEO recently purchased BI Incorporated, a company that has lucrative government contracts with ICE to administer its alternatives to detention program.
Private prison corporations have also exerted their influence on legislators by lobbying for laws that detain immigrants more frequently and for longer periods of time.23 For the five corporations with ICE detention contracts for which federal lobbying records are available, the total lobbying expenditure for 1999 through 2009 was over $20 million.24 The cozy relationships between legislators and private prison corporations are perhaps best illustrated by Arizona's controversial S.B. 1070 bill, which was drafted in the presence of officials from CCA.25 Of the 36 co-sponsors of S.B. 1070, 30 received campaign contributions from private prison lobbyists or companies, including CCA.26
ICE estimates that 60% of people in immigration detention are held under mandatory detention laws and expects that number to rise. In 1998, 70,000 persons were detained under IIRIRA. That number grew to 363,000 in 2010 and there is a goal by the current administration to deport 400,000 immigrants per year.
In the fall of 2009, the Obama administration released new regulations for detention of asylum seekers which reduced the amount of time they were detained. Those whose identities could be verified, and who had a place to go could be released in as few as 30 days.
In an effort to step up enforcement measures a greater emphasis was placed on picking up and detaining immigrants who had had some encounter with the law. Two past misdemeanors became grounds for deportation. Recent administration policy changes calling for expedited case reviews of those held as criminals has had seemingly no effect on the numbers of persons detained, nor on the disruption to families and communities caused by the current enforcement only policy.
IRATE & First Friends Position
Our position is clearly stated in our Mission Statement: We advocate for the end of arbitrary, mass detention believing detention is morally wrong, legally suspect and wasteful of taxpayer funds.
We object to the prison for profit industry that is making millions by the detention on immigrants who pose no threat to our society.
We oppose all enforcement only approaches to immigration reform. The answer is a comprehensive immigration reform bill that will provide a path to citizenship for those who have been contributing members of our society for years.
To really understand the injustice of current detention policy, please read and listen to the Detainees Stories presented elsewhere on this website.