Last week, Congress passed an omnibus appropriations bill that increases funding for immigration detention, providing money for over 40,000 immigration detention beds per night for FY2018. This funding reflects the Trump administration’s continued efforts to advance policies to ramp up immigration enforcement that tears apart communities at untold human and economic costs.
It also means that Congress is continuing to greenlight detention and enforcement practices that are dangerous and unethical.
It can be difficult to obtain information from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about where, how, and who they detain. But through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, Detention Watch Network and the Center for Constitutional Rights received a detailed breakdown of ICE contracted facilities.
Hidden within those documents are some troubling trends, such as the increasing number of localities that have both 287(g) agreements and local detention contracts called Intergovernmental Service Agreements (IGSAs). While both these programs have existed for some time, their overlap is especially concerning. Together, they create a perverse financial incentive for racialized enforcement and expanded detention, with little to no oversight.
287(g) is a controversial federal program that permits state and local law enforcement agencies to engage in federal immigration enforcement activities. In localities with 287(g) agreements, ICE deputizes law enforcement to arrest and detain people they suspect have violated immigration laws. The program has faced years of significant opposition for being racially discriminatory and constitutionally unsound. But the Trump administration is aggressively pushing these agreements.
IGSAs allow ICE to contract with local governments to detain immigrants in jails or other facilities. The local government receives a set amount of money for every day someone is held there. Under these agreements, ICE is essentially “renting” bed space from local jails to detain immigrants who may not be facing criminal charges. Many municipalities with IGSA agreements depend on revenue from immigrant detention to balance their budgets.
In locations where both these agreements exist, 287(g) agreements give local law enforcement control over who they arrest for suspected immigration violations. And the local detention contracts mean that the same law enforcement entity stands to make money for every day that person is held in detention. Financially, cash strapped counties have everything to gain by keeping those detention beds full. And 287(g) agreements give law enforcement from those same counties broad latitude to arrest and detain people to do just that.
According to the documents obtained through FOIA, there are now at least 32 detention facilities contracted under IGSA agreements in localities that also operate under 287(g) agreements. And this number is growing, with applications pending in two additional locales.
The impacts of increased detention are devastating. Conditions in detention facilities are often abysmal, with even the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) identifying in a December 2017 report “problems that undermine the protection of detainees’ rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment.” And the OIG again took ICE to task in a February 2018 audit critiquing the agency for improperly using IGSAs, writing that “ICE has no assurance that it executed detention center contracts in the best interest of the Federal Government, taxpayers, or detainees.”
Immigration detention is cruel and unnecessary. Detention breaks apart families and communities, often holding people in inhumane conditions and violating their civil and human rights. Creating financial incentives for cities to increase their detention numbers – almost certainly through widespread racial profiling – and deputizing local law enforcement to act as federal enforcers to make this happen, only makes things worse.
But this does not have to be the reality. At minimum, Congress should include language in the appropriations bill that bans localities participating in both programs simultaneously. A more appropriate step would be to significantly reduce or eliminate funding for both programs in recognition of the documented and consistent abuses within detention facilities nationwide and the racial profiling risks within the 287(g) program.
By passing the 2018 omnibus bill with increased funding for detention, lawmakers missed an opportunity to stand against these injustices and stand up for human rights. We will continue to shed light on ICE’s shadowy practices and the inhumanity of detention until we know these injustices will not continue.
Kathryn Johnson is the Policy Advocacy Coordinator with the American Friends Service Committee’s Office of Public Policy and Advocacy. She coordinates the organization’s policy work on immigration, trade, and U.S. engagement with Latin America. Follow her at @KatJohnsonDC