On Tuesday, November 19, National Public Radio (NPR) aired a story from the Department of Homeland Security’s detention center in Florence, Arizona, highlighting the large number of people currently held in immigration detention centers nationwide. All 34,000 beds in 250 detention facilities are full, thanks to Congress’s 2009 “detention-bed mandate,” in which Congress instructed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to operate detention facilities at maximum capacity. To meet this high quota, police and immigration officials have ramped up arrests of undocumented aliens. Anyone who lacks the proper residency documents can be detained in ICE facilities, even those with no criminal record. Francisco Rincon, a Mexican national with no prior trouble with the law, told NPR that he was arrested when he took a wrong turn in Tuscon, Arizona, and was subsequently detained for three weeks. Like Rincon, many of the 34,000 currently detained aliens found themselves in detention when they were arrested for minor traffic or criminal violations.
Each detained alien costs taxpayers $120 per day, and the “detention-bed mandate” is estimated to run a total of $2 billion a year. Supporters, like Rep. Hal Rogers (R- KY), believe that the bed mandate is necessary to compel the enforcement of existing immigration laws. Opponents believe that less expensive alternatives, like GPS-monitored ankle bracelets and routine check-ins with ICE, which cost a fraction of the price of detention, are sufficient to ensure the achievement of USCIS and ICE objectives. Those in favor of tougher enforcement vehemently disagree with this contention, citing the roughly 870,000 immigrants who have remained in the United States in hiding after receiving deportation orders. The debate continues in Congress, where the Senate passed a bill earlier this year calling for increased use of alternatives to detention, but the House has yet to pass any similar provisions.