And we mean waaaaaaayyyyy cheaper. According to the National Immigration forum, it costs somewhere between $122 and $164 per day to keep someone in immigration detention. That works out to about $5.4 million per day, and almost $2 billion per year. The Department of Homeland Security estimates that using alternatives to detention –such as monitoring people electronically, or with telephonic or in-person reporting, curfews and home visits -- cost anywhere from $0.30 to $14 per day per person. Even using the most expensive monitoring alternatives for people without serious crimes on their records could save a whopping 82 percent in detention costs -- about $1.6 billion per year. How’s that for small government?
The Obama administration, which deported a record-setting 409,849 people last year, says it’s committed to focusing its enforcement efforts on serious criminals using prosecutorial discretion. So why indiscriminately cram people into detention by the thousands? A study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University found that of the nearly 1 million people ICE slapped with an immigration hold over the last four years, only 23 percent had been convicted of a crime and only 8.6 percent with a serious crime.
Many people that wind up in immigration detention are only being detained for the civil violation of overstaying a visa and residing in the country illegally. Many others only have minor stains on their records, like traffic violations. Why jail them like criminals?
While politicians like Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer raise a ruckus about ICE releasing immigrant detainees that don’t have criminal records, jails across the country are already releasing real criminals due to overcrowding. In one disturbing case, California authorities were willing to release a sex offender with mental health problems who violated parole and repeatedly tampered with his GPS tracker. He is now accused of murdering his grandmother. Why should immigrants without criminal records be held to a higher standard?
If there’s very little risk of flight and the detainee doesn’t have a criminal record, what’s the logic in keeping the person separated from his or her family while awaiting deportation proceedings?
As the country braces itself for the increasingly likely possibility of getting hit with $85 billion in budget cuts this year, the decision to release several hundred immigrant detainees to save money has sparked fury among immigration hardliners.
It shouldn't come as a surprise, however, that ICE would want to lighten its load of detainees if the agency is facing looming budget cuts. As Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said Thursday, it costs six times more to hold an immigrant in detention than to let them go and monitor them.
An ICE official told Reuters that the federal government is currently spending about $119 per day per immigrant detainee. Using alternative ways to monitor detainees -- like GPS monitors or scheduling visits with a caseworker -- could bring that cost down to somewhere between $0.17 and $17.78.
Despite all the hoopla, most immigrants in detention aren't hardened criminals. A study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University found that of the nearly 1 million people ICE slapped with an immigration hold over the last four years, only 23 percent had been convicted of a crime and only 8.6 percent with a serious crime.
So we keep treating undocumented immigrants like criminals?
Check out these 5 reasons why it makes sense to use alternative methods to monitor most immigrants in detention. Let us know what you think in the comments.