In the past five years, U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials have jailed record numbers of immigrants, driven by a congressional directive known as the “bed mandate,” the Washington Post reports. The policy requires U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to keep 34,000 detainees per day in custody, a quota that has steadily risen since it was set in 2006 by conservative lawmakers who insisted that the agency wasn't doing enough to deport unlawful immigrants. As illegal crossings from Mexico have fallen to near their lowest levels since the early 1970s, ICE has met detention goals by reaching deeper into the criminal justice system to vacuum up foreign-born, legal U.S. residents convicted of any crimes that could make them eligible for deportation.
The agency has greatly expanded the number of undocumented immigrants it takes into custody after traffic stops by local police. DHS officials say that they are not needlessly jailing immigrants to meet a quota and that they find plenty of candidates for detention and deportation by targeting criminals who pose a threat to public safety and border security. Critics note that the majority of ICE detainees are not violent offenders. Immigration judges eventually allow many to remain in the United States, but the detainees may spend months in costly federal custody, even when far cheaper alternatives are available, such as ankle bracelets and other forms of electronic monitoring.