Napolitano Sets Record Straight on ICE Detainee Releases, Paves Way for National Dialogue about Alternatives

Washington, D.C. – Earlier today during a Politico Playbook Breakfast in Washington, D.C., Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano confirmed that recently “several hundred” immigration detainees were put on supervised release ahead of impending sequester spending cuts, and that all were “low risk.” Human Rights First notes the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) releases demonstrate that supervised release and other alternatives to detention save taxpayer dollars when utilized in place of detention for individuals who do not need to be detained.

“Today, Secretary Napolitano set the record straight about the recent ICE detainee releases,” said Human Rights First’s Ruthie Epstein. “Now that she has dispelled public misinformation and confusion, our policy-makers should take a hard look at how to save taxpayer dollars through a smarter approach to detention and alternatives – starting with an end to the costly immigration detention bed mandate.”

In her remarks this morning, Napolitano noted that spending cuts have put DHS “between a rock and a hard place” because Congress mandates, she says, ICE to maintain a detention level of 33,400 beds daily, but due to the sequester is not adequately funding the agency to do so. Human Rights First notes that ICE spends more than $5 million daily to detain immigrants – including many asylum seekers – about $2 billion annually. Alternatives to detention programs cost 30 cents to $14 per day per detainee, as compared to $164 per day for detention.

Human Rights First also notes that criminal justice experts have affirmed that alternatives make sense for ICE detainees. Steve J. Martin, former General Counsel of the Texas prison system and a participant in Human Rights First’s 2012 Dialogues on Detention series, notes, “The individuals detained by ICE are exactly the type of folks who should be considered for supervised release, or for release on bail or recognizance. When we deal with pre-trial individuals in the criminal context, best practice is to utilize the lowest restrictions possible that will ensure court appearance. It saves money and reserves jail space for those who actually need to be jailed.”

For more information about the costs of immigration detention, see Human Rights First’s factsheet “Immigration Detention: How Can the Government Cut Costs?” For more information about the immigration detention system, read Human Rights First’s recently released Blueprint for the Next Administration: How to Repair the U.S. Immigration Detention System.


Published on March 4, 2013


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