Obama Agency Studies End of Private Detention for Immigrants

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On the Arizona-Mexico border. Photo by Robert Silz/Longislandwins via Flickr

On the Arizona-Mexico border. Photo by Robert Silz/Longislandwins via Flickr

 

The Obama administration is considering an end to the practice of keeping immigrant detainees in for-profit centers, soon after the federal Bureau of Prisons announced it would stop its use of private prisons, the Los Angeles Times reports. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, whose agency includes the immigration service and the Border Patrol, has ordered a review of ways to end the use of the private facilities. A decision to do so would be a major victory for a coalition of civil rights groups and immigrant advocacy organizations that has sought to roll back the growth of the private-prison industry. Immigration detention facilities house far more detainees than the private facilities the federal prison system has used.

Immigration officials have pushed back against the idea, arguing that they have no cost-effective alternative to the private facilities and that other choices could be worse. “It would be remarkably detrimental,” said a senior Immigration and Customs Enforcement official. Cutting out private companies from the system would cost taxpayers billions of dollars more a year and take more than a decade to implement, the official warned. Johnson’s Homeland Security Advisory Council is expected to make a recommendation by the end of November. Nine of the 10 largest immigration detention facilities are operated by private companies, and they hold two-thirds of the detainees in a system that has more than 31,000 people in custody on a typical day. While some centers are located in border areas, others are far from the border because deportation officers arrest migrants living in the interior of the country.

 

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