A budget requirement for the federal government to hold 34,000 people for possible deportation in prison has received little attention as the House of Representatives considers the Senate's Gang of Eight immigration reform bill.
The policy, driven by law-and-order advocates in both parties who say the government could do more to crack down on illegal immigration, helps explain why detention costs for undocumented immigrants have more than doubled since 2006, to $2.8 billion annually. The rise has occurred even as the number of those caught along U.S. borders has fallen by two-thirds, according to government statistics.
Immigrant-rights advocates say the detention requirement forces the government to needlessly lock up thousands of people who could be supervised in less-confining ways for much less money, subjecting them to sometimes-harsh treatment in prison-like facilities as they await deportation hearings.
The requirement was implemented in 2007 by Congress as part of the Department of Homeland Security's 2007 appropriation, and will continue if the House-passed DHS budget becomes law. An amendment to end the provision received support from House Democrats, though Reps. Justin Amash, Thomas Massie, and Mark Sanford were three of only eight Republican votes in support of the amendment, which failed 232-190 in June.
"The amendment [would have removed] the requirement in the underlying bill that ICE maintain at least 34,000 detention beds," Rep. Amash (R-Mich.) explained on his Facebook page, "which ICE has interpreted to mandate an average daily population for 34,000 individuals. ICE shouldn't be held to some arbitrary figure for detentions."
But it's not just bureaucrats and restrictionists behind the program, according to Reuters.
The detention quota also delivers millions of dollars annually to private prison companies such as Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group, which together handle about half of all immigration detainees.
CCA and GEO Group are key players in Washington, spending millions of dollars in the past decade to lobby Congress and contributing to the campaigns of lawmakers who support tough immigration policies.
It's unlikely the detention quota will end without contention from bureaucrats in the DHS and cronies of the prison industry, but as Shikha Dalmia writes in an article published earlier today on immigration, Republicans in Congress would be better served advocating limited government, not militarized borders or a set requirement for how many people land in jail for being in this country unlawfully as a result of the country's flawed immigration policy.