The Math of Immigration Detention: Runaway Costs for Immigration Detention Do Not Add Up to Sensible Policies
One symptom of our broken immigration system is the exorbitant spending wasted on the detention of immigrants. The vast majority of these immigrants, if ever Congress acted to reform our immigration system, would be encouraged to stay and continue contributing to our economy. Even for those who must eventually be removed, billions of dollars could be saved if the government properly allocated resources towards more humane and cost-effective alternative methods of monitoring. Physical detention, as costly as it is, should only be used in limited circumstances, such as for holding immigrants whose release would pose a serious danger to the community. For the majority of immigrants, the government could use less expensive alternatives to detention prior to removal.
A cost-effective approach to monitoring immigrants who face removal is unlikely to be implemented as long as Congress continues to throw money at the detention operations of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), located in the Department of Homeland Security. For the Fiscal Year beginning October 1, 2011 (Fiscal Year 2012), the House of Representatives has approved a budget of $2.75 billion for Detention and Removal—more than $184 million more than the previous year and enough for ICE to keep 34,000 immigrants detained at any one time.
The Obama Administration‘s most recent request to Congress for immigration detention alone amounts to $5.5 million per day spent on immigration detention (the House increased that amount). The current cost to detain an immigrant is approximately $166 per day at a capacity of 33,400 detention beds.
Less wasteful alternatives to detention range in cost from as low as 30 cents to $14 a day. If only individuals convicted of serious crimes were detained and the less expensive alternative methods were used to monitor the rest of the detained population, taxpayers could save more than over $1.6 billion—over an 80% reduction in annual costs. The government should focus on expanding its alternatives to detention program and reforming its immigration laws. An examination of the numbers makes it clear—the dollars spent to detain immigrants do not add up to something that makes sense.