December 21, 2013

DHM Opposes Detention Bed Mandate for Undocumented Immigrants

Disciples Home Missions joined non-governmental civil rights, civil liberties, human rights, legal services, and faith-based organizations, to urge the Administration to request flexibility to transfer funds between the accounts for detention and alternatives to detention of undocumented immigrants, and to reject the principle of a mandated daily detention level in its FY 2015 budget request to Congress.  Following is part of the letter sent to Administration:

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the interior enforcement agency of DHS, detains approximately 34,000 individuals across the country each day – about 400,000 annually – in a network of county jails, privately run contract facilities, and federal facilities that costs taxpayers $2 billion each year. Congressional appropriations language covering ICE’s detention budget – most recently referenced in the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2014 – states "[t]hat funding made available under this heading shall maintain a level of not less than 34,000 detention beds." Because ICE and some members of Congress interpret the language to require ICE to maintain and fill 34,000 beds daily, it has become known as the detention bed "mandate." The number itself is completely arbitrary, and the concept of a legislatively mandated detention quota is an aberration among law enforcement agencies.

ICE’s daily detention level should be determined only by actual need, based on individualized case-by-case assessments of whether detention is warranted. As former DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano acknowledged before Congress, the Department "ought to be managing the actual detention population to risk, not to an arbitrary number."

Immigration detention is civil detention, as opposed to punitive incarceration, and is meant to ensure compliance with immigration court hearings and final orders of removal. For many men and women, detention is not necessary to meet this limited purpose. Alternatives to detention (ATDs) – widely used in criminal justice systems across the country, and to a limited degree by ICE already – are effective and far less costly than detention. Alternatives to detention are recommended as cost-savers by the American Jail Association, American Probation and Parole Association, American Bar Association, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Heritage Foundation, International Association of Chiefs of Police, National Conference of Chief Justices, National Sheriffs’ Association, Pretrial Justice Institute, Texas Public Policy Foundation (home to Right on Crime), and the Council on Foreign Relations’ Independent Task Force on U.S. Immigration Policy. A shift from detention to ATDs, including bond and release on recognizance when appropriate, could save taxpayers an estimated $1.44 billion annually – a 79 percent reduction in immigration detention costs.

In recent months, news outlets including the Washington Post, the Houston Chronicle, Univision, Bloomberg, Reuters, National Public Radio, The Hill, and have covered this issue. In June 2013, Representatives Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Bill Foster (D-IL) introduced an amendment to strike the bed mandate from the House’s FY 2014 DHS Appropriations bill. It did not pass, but 190 representatives, including eight Republicans, voted for the amendment.

Broad consensus is beginning to align with common-sense fiscal responsibility, best practices in law enforcement, and basic due process principles. The mandate should be eliminated. We urge you to make it clear to Congress that the mandate hinders the Administration’s efforts to run a cost-efficient, effective, and just immigration enforcement system.

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