The Department of Homeland Security assumes that mass detention is the key to immigration enforcement. But in fact, our detention system locks up hundreds of thousands of immigrants unnecessarily every year, exposing detainees to brutal and inhumane conditions of confinement at massive costs to American taxpayers.
Immigration detention in the United States has reached crisis proportions. In 2011, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) held a record-breaking 429,000 immigrants in over 250 facilities across the country, and currently maintains a daily capacity of 33,400 beds—even though, in the overwhelming majority of cases, detention is not necessary to effect deportations and does not make us any safer.
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Among those unnecessarily locked up are survivors of torture, asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, families with small children, the elderly, individuals with serious medical and mental health conditions, and lawful permanent residents with longstanding family and community ties who are facing deportation because of old or minor crimes. This lock-up system is a massive waste of taxpayer dollars, costing $122 to $164 to hold a detainee each day, or $2 billion a year. Adding insult to injury, detainees are exposed to myriad abuses—from a lack of adequate medical and mental health care that has caused unnecessary deaths to rape and sexual abuse.
The “lock’em up” approach to detention is contrary to common sense and our fundamental values. In America, liberty should be the norm for everyone—and detention the last resort.
Click here to view an interactive map courtesy of Frontline/PBS from Map: The U.S. Immigration Detention Boom by Gretchen Gavett. Map credits: Jacob Fenton, Catherine Rentz, Stokely Baksh and Lisa Hill
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