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ICYMI: The Guardian and The Marshall Project Explainer on “How the US Built the World’s Largest Immigration Detention System”

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House Immigration Subcommittee and House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Management and Accountability each hold hearings this week

The Guardian and The Marshall Project jointly produced a series of videos with former immigration officials, legal advocates, and victims of Trump’s family separation policy that provides a thorough explanation of how our country went from detaining fewer than 3,000 immigrants on any given day in the 1970s to more than 50,000 today. Although the growth of immigration detention is not new to the Trump administration, as the explainer notes, it has grown by more than 40% since Trump took office in 2017. At the same time, Congress has made it clear to the Trump administration that it wants DHS to decrease immigration detention. However, DHS continues to overspend well beyond Congressionally appropriated limits and is advocating for even more and longer detention of families and children. All this despite multiple governmental and non-governmental reports of inhumane detention conditions.

Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch and former USCIS Chief Counsel, said:

This Guardian/Marshall Project explainer couldn’t be more timely as the House Immigration Subcommittee and House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Management and Accountability each hold hearings this week examining the growing use of immigration detention and multiple governmental and non-governmental reports of inhumane detention conditions, poor accountability structures, and this administration’s insatiable appetite to continue growing immigration detention without reigning in failing detention facilities. It is time for Congress to flex its authority and reign in the growth in detention, especially under this administration, and finally hold DHS accountable for horrifically inhumane detention conditions.

David Leopold, Counsel to DHS Watch, Chair of Immigration at Ulmer & Berne and former President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said:

Immigration detention has become America’s Gulag, a horrific maze and brutality and dysfunction: a system that holds more than 50,000 children, women and men every night. Violations including physical and sexual abuse, substandard medical care, inappropriate transfers, fetid conditions and other appalling indignities contrary to basic notions of due process are rampant and have been documented by the Guardian/Marshall project. It’s incumbent upon Congress to use its oversight power to stop the growth ICE detention, safeguard the due process rights of all ICE detainees and bring the Trump administration’s rampant human rights violations to an end.

Below are key excerpts of the written portion of The Guardian and Marshall Project explainer.  Videos of former officials, legal advocates, and family separation victims may be found here.

Children sleeping on floors, changing other children’s diapers. Families torn apart at the border. Migrants crammed into fetid detention centers. These have become familiar sights as people fleeing gang violence, domestic abuse and poverty arrive on the southern border of the United States. Many will join more than 52,000 immigrants confined in jails, prisons, tents and other forms of detention – most of them for profit.

The people held in prison-like facilities across the country are not serving time for a crime. They’re waiting for a hearing to determine whether they can legally remain in the country while being kept in what is considered “civil detention”….Detention, once reserved only for those who threatened public safety or posed a flight risk, is now ubiquitous.

Immigrants, including asylum seekers and legal migrants, wait an average of more than four weeks to be released, though some have been held inside for years or even decades. Up to 2,500 are children and parents fleeing war and violence in their home countries. Thousands have alleged sexual and physical abuse inside the facilities.

Forty years ago, this system did not exist.

A modest system holding fewer than 3,000 migrants a day at the end of the 1970s, detention has now morphed into a sprawling machinery ensnaring immigrants across the country.

The number of people held on an average day by ICE and its predecessor, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, has grown more than twentyfold since 1979

Billions of American taxpayer dollars are now allocated to support a system where for-profit companies hold the vast majority of immigrants. In fiscal year 2018, private prison companies like CoreCivic and GEO Group derived 25% and 20% of their profits respectively from Ice, which is now their biggest client. In the same year, Ice spent over $250m on contracts with GEO Group and another $60m with CoreCivic.

Ice also runs alternatives to detention programs, including electronic monitoring, phone check-ins and home visits. Over 98,373 people are currently on electronic monitoring, according to Ice. Where Ice pays several hundred dollars per person per day in detention, alternative programs cost an average of $4.42 a day.

Ten per cent of detainees are in Ice-run facilities, 20% are in county and local jails, and the rest are in facilities run by private corporations. Though unaccompanied children are placed in facilities operated by health and human services, over 500 children and parents are currently detained by Ice. And the Trump administration has made new efforts to remove the 20-day time limit for detaining migrant children.

Trump continues to redirect funding from the US Coast Guard and other agencies to a detention system whose daily population has grown by more than 40% since he took office. And it’s only getting bigger.