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Obama Administration Considers Closing For-Profit Immigrant Detention Centers

behind barsIn 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.

Just in the state of California, the federal government has lucrative contracts with four private detention facilities.  Each of these facilities houses nearly 4,000 foreign nationals each day.  The detainees include foreign nationals who are in the U.S. without lawful immigration status, permanent residents (green card holders) accused of an immigration-related crime, people who are seeking asylum protection, and those who are in the middle of deportation proceedings and must appear at immigration court for hearings.

Recently, the California Legislature passed a law that would prevent its local governments from contracting with private enterprises to establish and run immigration detention centers in California.  The bill, referred to as the Dignity Not Detention Act, is awaiting Governor Jerry Brown’s signature.

The Costs of Immigrant Detention Centers

As is the case with most policies, one of the biggest concerns with closing the for-profit detention centers is the cost.  The 2017 budget for detention centers is $2.1 billion, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) states that it costs the federal government between $127 and $161 per day to hold a person or family in a detention facility.  These costs are of course passed on to and borne by the taxpayers.

The Rant

The concern over detention facility costs becoming a burden to the taxpayer is understandable, however not reason enough for private detention facilities to continue to profit off each prisoner housed. Detaining people shouldn’t be done for profit, and cost effectiveness should not outweigh the protection of civil rights.

More Blog Posts:

The Government’s War on H-1Bs, ImmigRantings, October 11, 2012

Obama Signs Immigration Executive Order, ImmigRantings, June 15, 2012

Problems with the H-1B visa: From Work Horse to Show Pony, ImmigRantings, February 13, 2012