A little-known Congressional mandate requires U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to keep an average of 34,000 detainees per day in its custody. This quota has steadily risen since it was established in 2006 by conservative lawmakers who insisted that the agency wasn’t doing enough to deport unlawful immigrants.
“Controversial quota drives immigration detention boom,” an article written by Nick Miroff in the October 14 issue of The Washington Post, rightly points out the staggering cost of making detention a cornerstone of immigration enforcement. Miroff notes that Congress’s order to detain an average of 34,000 people each day requires ICE officials to spend nearly $400 million more than the agency had requested in April from Congress.
More important, the cost of the “heads-in-beds” mandate to the American people can be measured in more than dollars. Liberty is one of Americans’ most deeply held values, and the protection of the individual against arbitrary deprivation of liberty one of our most fundamental rights. U.S. immigration law already mandates detention of broad categories of people and it permits the discretionary detention of anyone who is determined to pose a risk of flight or danger to the community.
By holding people simply to fill the beds, we cross the line to arbitrariness. Congress’s detention quota squanders not only our national treasure, but our national soul.
By Michele Garnett McKenzie, The Advocates’ director of advocacy