The Economic Impacts of Long-Term Immigration Detention in Southern California

by Caitlin Patler

Introduction:
In 2013, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained over 477,000 immigrants at a cost of over $2 billion (or $161 per detainee, per day). Today, more than 33,000 immigrants are held in ICE custody on any given day. These numbers indicate a sharp expansion in immigration detention. As Figure 1 (see paper) demonstrates, the annual population detained by ICE doubled in the first decade of the 21st century.

Many noncitizens remain in ICE custody for prolonged periods of time: in 2013, ICE detained over 10,000 people for 6 months or longer, and 30,000 people for 3 months or longer. Data from the Border Survey of Mexican Migration (EMIF Norte) indicates that 15.4% of Mexican immigrants deported from the interior of the United States in 2013-14 report having been detained for more than one year, with about half of those individuals reporting detention lasting three years or longer. Importantly, time in immigration detention is not a sentence but rather, a result of the backlog in immigration courts. There are few constitutional limits on the length of time that individuals can be detained, so many people remain in ICE custody for months and years at a time.

Recently, however, a group of long-term detainees brought a class action lawsuit in the Central District of California. This litigation requires a bond hearing before an immigration judge for noncitizens who have been continuously held in detention for 180 days, including certain classes of mandatory detainees.

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