Gov’t data reveal U.S. reliance on private immigration detention centers
WASHINGTON — A new report on immigration detention released Dec. 5 reveals that detained individuals were commonly held in facilities operated by private entities and located in remote areas, far away from basic community support structures and legal advocacy networks.
The most recent report, “The Landscape of Immigration Detention in the United States,” by the American Immigration Council, raises important questions about the implications of further expanding the complex, sprawling network of detention facilities, as officials assess further funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The report draws on government and other records for the 355,729 individuals detained by ICE in fiscal year 2015, the year with the most recent publicly available data. The main findings of the report include:
- ICE relied on 638 sites scattered throughout the United States to detain individuals, often moving them from one facility to another.
- About 67% of detained individuals were held in privately operated facilities, and 64% were confined in a remotely located facility.
- Detention length was significantly longer in privately operated facilities and in remotely located facilities.
- Over 48,800 detention facility-related grievances were reported by detainees and community members. The number of grievances was significantly higher in privately operated facilities and in remotely located facilities.
- Nearly half of detainees (48%) were confined at least once in a facility that was located more than 60 miles away from the nearest immigration attorney providing low- or no-cost removal defense services.
- The majority (60%) of adults who were detained were transferred at least once during their detention, leading to confinement in multiple locations.
“The use of immigration detention in the United States has increased significantly in recent decades, while allegations of civil and human rights violations in detention facilities have persisted,” said Emily Ryo, associate professor at University of Southern California Gould School of Law.
“The empirical research presented in this report highlights key aspects of immigration detention—issues that could be exacerbated if the government expands detention use further,” Ryo added.
Guillermo Cantor, research director at the American Immigration Council, noted, “This study suggests that facilities with private operators and in remote locations require special scrutiny, given that placement in these types of facilities is associated with longer detention length and a higher volume of grievances.”
Cantor said further that “comprehensive investigations and independent monitoring” of these facilities are urgently needed to address ongoing humanitarian and legal concerns.
Kathryn Shepherd, national advocacy counsel at the American Immigration Council, said, “As Congress weighs the administration’s repeated requests for a massive immigration enforcement budget, these findings should be central to policy discussions about detention funding, oversight, and reform.”
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