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The immigration detention bed quota requires U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to maintain 34,000 immigration detention beds on a daily basis. This quota has steadily increased since its establishment in 2009. No other law enforcement agency is subject to a statutory quota on the number of individuals to hold in detention.

The bed quota prevents ICE from exercising discretion and expanding more efficient alternatives to detention (ATD) that would allow individuals who pose no risk to public safety to be released back to their families while awaiting immigration court hearings. ATDs cost as little as 70 cents to $17 per day—a fraction of the $159 ICE spends to detain one person per day.   Over the course of a year, immigration detention costs over $2 billion, approximately $5.5 million each day.  Taxpayers could save $1.44 billion each year—a nearly 80 percent decrease in detention spending—if ATDs were more widely used.  Alternatives to detention have received bipartisan support for their cost‐savings from groups such as the Council on Foreign Relations’ Independent Task Force on U.S. Immigration Policy, the Heritage Foundation, the Pretrial Justice Institute, the Texas Public Policy Foundation (home to Right on Crime), the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the National Conference of Chief Justices.

Recommendations

  • Eliminate the detention bed quota and allow ICE to make detention decisions based on an individual’s situation rather than on an arbitrary quota.
     
  • Expand the use of alternatives to detention (ATDs) to help individuals stay with their families. In comparison to the $159 it costs to detain one person per day, ATDs range in cost from $0.70 to $17 per day. Expanding ATDs for 80 percent of the people in detention could save taxpayers at least $1.44 billion dollars annually. ATDs allow individuals – many of whom have strong ties to their communities and pose little flight risk – to stay in their communities and limit unnecessary severe economic and emotional consequences. ICE needs budget flexibility to use ATDs based on case-by-case assessments.
     
  • Ensure access to counsel so detainees can efficiently navigate the immigration system, decreasing time in detention