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Department of Homeland Security IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT DETAINEE IDENTIFICATION CARD Name of Facility OAK-132-2 A # A202119 Name Miguel //// DOB 12.3.1985 Country of Origin Mexico
CONTINUE

DETAINED

How the United States created the largest immigrant detention system in the world.

FILED 1:30 a.m.
09.24.2019

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 United States' reliance on immigrant detention is not a new phenomenon, nor did it emerge with President Donald Trump (though its growth under his administration is staggering). Over the last four decades, a series of emergency stopgaps and bipartisan deals has created a new multi-billion dollar industry built on the incarceration of immigrants.

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,” intended to ensure that people show up for those hearings. 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.

Part i.
Shifting Tides

The Guard

As Reagan’s policies took shape, inside detention facilities there was little regulation, poor conditions and frequent allegations of abuse. During these years, Tony Hefner was a guard at Bayview Detention Center in Texas, one of the first immigrant detention centers in the country.

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. And facilities operated under both Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Border Patrol continue to come under fire for holding people in squalid conditions with minimal access to hygiene and medical care.

Growth of Detention: Fiscal Years 1979 - 2019

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.

1979
1980
1981
1982
1983
1984
1985
1986
1987
1988
1989
1990
1991
1992
1993
1994
1995
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015
2016
2017
2018
2019
Average daily population
0
0
50k
Detained annually
0
0
500k
Average days in detention
0
0
50
Source: INS, ICE. Note: Some categories were unavailable from 1997 through 2000. Fiscal year 2019 figures current as of Sept. 10.
Part ii.
A New Machinery

While the population of people in detention has grown, so has the government budget to fund the beds to hold them. 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 percent and 20 percent of their profits respectively from ICE, which is now their biggest client. In the same year, ICE spent over $250 million on contracts with GEO Group and another $60 million 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.


Federal Spending on Detention

2010 - 2018
Fiscal year ICE custody operations appropriations
2010 $1.8 billion
2011 $1.8 billion
2012 $2.1 billion
2013 $2.0 billion
2014 $2.0 billion
2015 $2.5 billion
2016 $2.3 billion
2017 $2.7 billion
2018 $3.1 billion
Part iii.
Catch and Detain

With illegal immigration at the heart of the debate over U.S. immigration policy, the number of undocumented immigrants has grown from less than 1 million in the 1970s to just under 11 million today, about 3 percent of the U.S. population.

Although the number of undocumented immigrants has actually declined since 2007, the government is locked in a stalemate over how to deal with those still here and those who continue to arrive.

The Undocumented Population

After years of growth, the estimated number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. declined over the past decade.
1990 - 2016 (in millions)
0.0 0.0 0.0 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015

Even as the numbers held in detention have expanded, actual apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border by the Border Patrol and in the interior by ICE have fluctuated, declining over all since 2000, and spiking again this year. Trump administration enforcement measures have not deterred the most recent surge, made up mostly of Central American families fleeing instability and violence.

Apprehensions of Immigrants

1960 - Present
- Border Patrol arrests at Southwest border
- Border Patrol arrests elsewhere
- ICE administrative arrests
0.5 mil 1 mil 1.5 mil 2 mil
Source: Customs and Border Protection, ICE. Fiscal year 2019 numbers current as of Sept. 10.
Part iv.
Zero Tolerance

The number of detention facilities soared in the 1990s. Then, by 2017 the number declined as privately run facilities began to replace some of the smaller local jails.

Ten percent of detainees are in ICE-run facilities, 20 percent 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.

Detention Centers Across the U.S.

As the immigration detention system expanded, in recent years larger facilities have replaced smaller county jails.
1978 - 2017
1978
1979
1980
1981
1982
1983
1984
1985
1986
1987
1988
1989
1990
1991
1992
1993
1994
1995
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015
2016
2017
Source: ICE

The Asylum Seeker

A year before Trump's family separation policy provoked a nationwide outcry, Roxana, whose last name has been withheld for safety concerns, was detained and separated from her sons.

As the race for the 2020 presidential election heats up, Democratic candidates have clamored to decry Trump’s immigration policies.

Nearly all candidates support an end to detention for asylum-seeking families. In Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s immigration plan, she promises to reserve detention for extreme cases of safety or flight risks. Sen. Bernie Sanders told the Washington Post, “We must promote and implement these cheaper, more effective and more humane alternatives to keeping children and families detained in overcrowded, understaffed and ad-hoc facilities.” Former Vice President Joe Biden also pledged to end the detention of children in a private meeting with BOLDPAC, a political action committee.

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

In custody on Sept. 10, 2019 30,000
Source: ICE

Credits

The Marshall Project in partnership with The Guardian

Reporting, Direction, Production
Emily Kassie
Executive Producers
Tom Meagher
Julia Preston
Susan Chira
Bill Keller
Video Editing
Emily Kassie
Alex Ivany
Additional Editing
Katia Vannoy
Margaret Cheatham Williams
Cinematography 
Bryan Gentry
Emily Kassie
Additional Cinematography
Quinn Gunderson
Seffy Hirsch
Jih-e Peng
Kenny Suleimanagich
Grip
Wrangel Lubin
Additional Reporting
Andrew Calderon
Narration
Alejandra Rivera Flaviá
Music
Ari Balouzian
Video Animation and Graphics
the STUDIO:
Creative director - Mary Nittolo
Graphics producer - Eric Schutzbank
Lead Illustrator - John Holmes
Animator - Victor DeRespinis and Jackie Garbuio
Design and Development
Gladeye
Archival
AP, Getty, Reuters, Pond5, C-SPAN, WPA, NBC
Special Thanks
USCIS Historical Reference Library
University of Denver
Boston College
The Fledgling Fund