Growing Bipartisan Support in Congress on Eliminating Immigration Detention Bed Mandate

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today welcomed the strong vote that almost eliminated the wasteful and arbitrary immigration detention bed mandate. The amendment to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Fiscal Year 2014 Appropriations Bill was introduced by Representatives Theodore Deutch (D-FL) and Bill Foster (D-IL). Though it failed to pass, the amendment would have eliminated the unnecessary and inefficient bed mandate, which requires Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to maintain 34,000 detention beds every day. One hundred and ninety Members of Congress voted in support of the amendment. Eight Republicans joined in.

“ICE should have the flexibility to make smart custody decisions based on an individual risk assessment, and not to unnecessarily detain someone who could be released into an alternative to detention simply to comply with an arbitrary Congressional mandate,” said Human Rights First’s Katharina Obser. “The bed mandate currently maintained in the DHS Appropriations Bill limits ICE’s ability to make smart, efficient, and cost-effective custody decisions.”

In addition to Representatives Deutch and Foster, Representatives Schakowsky (D-IL), Price (D-NC), Polis (D-CO), Quigley (D-IL) and Roybal-Allard (D-CA) all spoke out against the bed mandate during today’s floor debate. U.S. immigration detention practices also came up in a recent House Judiciary Committee hearing, where Rep. Deutch questioned the bed mandate and  Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL) cited to the effectiveness of alternatives to detention in the criminal justice and immigration detention systems. Their questions were in line with the growing bipartisan recognition reflected in today’s vote that ICE should be assessing risk on a case-by-case basis.

Human Rights First notes that every year, ICE detains about 400,000 immigrants – including thousands of asylum seekers – in a sprawling system of jails and jail-like facilities across the country at a cost to taxpayers of $2 billion, and that the costs of immigration detention have risen dramatically over the past 15 years.

Alternatives to detention programs, meanwhile, cost 30 cents to $14 per day per person, as compared to $164 per day per person for detention. Alternatives have been endorsed as cost-saving by a wide range of groups, including by the Council on Foreign Relations Task Force on U.S. Immigration Policy, Heritage Foundation, Texas Public Policy Foundation, Pretrial Justice Institute, International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the National Conference of Chief Justices.

“Criminal justice systems across the country use less expensive, and more humane, alternatives to detention, and it is time for the immigration detention system to follow their lead,” concluded Obser. “Congress should immediately eliminate the costly bed mandate and expand ICE’s ability to use alternatives.”

Human Rights First recently held a series of dialogues across the country culminating in a day-long conference in Washington, D.C. on immigration detention and alternatives to detention, convening former corrections officials, representatives of faith groups, and criminal justice reform experts from across the political spectrum including Grover Norquist, Dr. Richard Land, and Julie Myers Wood, to identify common-sense and rights-respecting reforms. For more information, see Human Rights First’s Blueprint:  How to Repair the U.S. Immigration Detention System.


Published on June 5, 2013


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