The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) contracts with two immigrant-detention centers in South Florida include provisions that guarantee a minimum number of detainees each day, according to a report released last week by Detention Watch Network.
While Congress has mandated since 2009 that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hold at least 34,000 immigrants in detention each day, this research is the first to indicate that the nationwide bed mandate has spawned the adoption of detention bed quotas at the local level.
For the government to contractually guarantee a detention center prepaid numbers of detainees each day is a waste of taxpayer dollars, a violation of best practices in law enforcement and an affront to our basic concept of justice in America. Both the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach and the Krome Processing Center in Miami are among 15 facilities nationwide with contracts that include these daily “guaranteed minimums” of detainees. Combined, they “implicate the incarceration of at least 8,522 people every day,” including a minimum of 950 detainees at the two South Florida locations.
Enforcing the detention-bed mandate costs taxpayers about $2 billion a year. That’s because placing someone in detention at a rate of $160 per day is far more expensive than proven alternatives, like ankle bracelets and supervised release, which are just as effective and far more humane at a fraction of the cost.
Taxpayers could save nearly $15 billion over the next decade through the greater use of alternatives to detention, which on average cost around $6 a day. Certainly, detention is invaluable to law enforcement when dealing with immigrants who officers determine are flight risks or whose release could threaten public safety. But detention is intended to be one of many tools available to ICE to ensure individuals show up for immigration court — not the only one.
Beyond detention’s high cost, the inclusion of “guaranteed minimums” in contracts for specific facilities has profound implications for the communities around them. A local quota increases the likelihood, for example, that an undocumented mother from Broward County will be forced to wait for her day in court from behind bars when a community-based supervision program could keep her family together and save taxpayer money.
Likewise, my office has heard directly from local immigration attorneys whose clients have been detained despite being eligible for asylum and posing no flight risk or threat to the community.
The bed mandate is just one small part of our broken immigration system, but it is increasingly complicating any path to comprehensive reform. For while DHS predicts that illegal immigration at our southern border this year will drop to its lowest levels since 1972, spending on detention has more than doubled in the past decade, in great part because of the bed mandate. And just as the explosion of the private prison industry has made solving America’s crisis of mass incarceration more difficult, the politics of mandatory detention make advancing comprehensive immigration reform more challenging.
Whether the $2 billion spent enforcing the bed mandate goes to detention centers run by for-profit companies or to jail cells managed by county governments, as the business of detention grows more dependent on that revenue, its beneficiaries will seek to protect it. Indeed, any industry that relies on government contracts will fight to preserve and even increase that government funding.
The adoption of local quotas in communities like ours should eliminate any doubt that the federal bed mandate has prioritized the detention of immigrants over alternatives that are far less costly to taxpayers and far more humane for families.
If the idea of our government signing contracts that unnecessarily waste taxpayer money and undermine our values does not sit right with you as an American taxpayer, you are not the only one. In the coming days, I’ll be introducing new legislation in Congress to ban ICE from signing contracts that include guaranteed minimums, in addition to continuing efforts to strike this arbitrary quota from federal law.
The decision to detain someone should be made on a case-by-case basis by professionals in law enforcement, not by politicians in Washington, and not as a result of prepaid bed quotas.
U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch represents Florida’s 21st District, which includes parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties, in Congress.