In the wake of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ announcement that it would end its use of private prisons, President Obama announced that his administration is likewise contemplating the end of using for-profit centers as immigrant detention centers. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Mr. Jeh Johnson, stated that he requested that his department review different ways that the use of private facilities could be halted. After a review of the report, Secretary Johnson is expected to make a recommendation on the policy change by the end of November.
While it appears that the affected federal agency is on board with the President’s idea, as with all immigration-related issues, there are two sides to this situation. Proponents who support closing private detention centers argue that doing so is necessary to protect the civil rights of those detained in the centers. But there are many federal immigration agents who feel that closing the centers is simply not feasible because there is no similarly cost-effective alternative to house the growing number of foreign national detainees, and many alternatives could actually be worse from a civil rights or safety perspective. One official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, predicted that ending the use of private detention centers would cost taxpayers billions of dollars in just one year. This official also predicted that it would take more than a decade to implement the policy change.
The Current Status of the Immigration Detention Centers
It is interesting to reveal that nine of the nation’s 10 largest detention facilities are run by private enterprises. These immigration facilities house approximately two-thirds of the foreign nationals who are detained for suspected crimes in the United States. Many of the facilities are located on the border, but a few are inland because immigration officials also arrest foreign nationals away from the border.