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MPI Report Questions Whether ICE Is Capable of Meeting Its Immigration Detention Mandates
Press Release
Thursday, September 10, 2009

MPI Report Questions Whether ICE Is Capable of Meeting Its Immigration Detention Mandates

WASHINGTON — The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) today issued a report exploring whether U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is capable of meeting its legal and case management responsibilities in light of its use of information systems that may not be collecting all the data necessary for compliance with legal, detention management and humanitarian standards.

A new report, Immigrant Detention: Can ICE Meet its Legal Imperatives and Case Management Responsibilities?, analyzes select data for all 32,000 detainees held in ICE custody on one night in January 2009 and examines the sufficiency of ICE's database and case tracking system. The question has taken on new urgency in light of the ICE announcement in August that it plans to revamp its detention system to reduce its reliance on local jails and private prisons, address longstanding concerns related to conditions of confinement and centralize management.

"ICE may well need more information on detainees than it currently collects, particularly data that can inform and guide its legal and operational decisions related to custody reviews, eligibility for release or parole, placement in alternative-to-detention programs or even claims to US citizenship," said MPI Vice President for Programs Donald Kerwin, a co-author of the report. "This report provides a roadmap for meeting the data needs essential for the new ICE detention initiative to succeed as it attempts to move from a criminal incarceration model to a civil detention system."

Some highlights of the report's analysis of the ICE data on detainees in the system on January 25, 2009:

  • Of the 32,000 immigrants in ICE's custody, 18,690 had pending removal cases (in other words, they had not received final orders of removal).
  • The average length of detention for the 18,690 pre-removal order detainees was 81 days. Seventy-four percent had been detained for less than 90 days, 13 percent for between 90 days and six months, 10 percent for between six months and one year, and 3 percent for more than one year.
  • A high percentage of ICE detainees (58 percent) do not have criminal records, even though mandatory detention laws largely apply to criminal aliens; ICE includes persons who have committed immigration-related offenses in its criminal alien nomenclature, and ICE's expanding Secure Communities program places large numbers of arrested and imprisoned noncitizens into removal proceedings.
  • ICE held detainees in 286 facilities, which were concentrated in southern and US-Mexico border states; 68 percent of the total were held in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
  • Nearly 70 percent of detainees were held in state and local prisons pursuant to Intergovernmental Service Agreements, 17 percent in contract detention facilities, 10 percent in service processing centers, 2 percent in federal prisons and 3 percent in Office of Refugee Resettlement facilities, medical centers, shelters, and other alternative or "soft" detention settings.

"The detention data highlight the need for ICE information systems that can meet the substantial challenges of a sprawling detention system, comprised of hundreds of facilities, large and small, public and private, federal and local, that holds a highly diverse population, including men and women, criminal and noncriminal detainees, the medically fragile and others," said MPI Data/Statistical Analyst Serena Yi-Ying Lin, who co-authored the report.

The report makes a range of recommendations, among them that ICE:

  • Undertake an intensive analysis of its information systems, particularly its detention database and case tracking system, in light of its legal mandates, management imperatives and detention transformation initiative.
  • Comprehensively review its contracts for detention space, with the goal of maximizing the cost savings realized by expanding alternative-to-detention programs.
  • Capture information that would allow the agency to adhere to its national standards, including information on when and how the agency has complied with the standards. For standards related to detainee transfers, ICE should record information on the US residence of detainees, their family members and legal counsel.
  • Collect all information related to detainee medical needs, interventions, treatment and causes of death.

Said Kerwin: "Many government and non-government reports have criticized ICE for failing to comply with its legal mandates and management imperatives. This report places these criticisms in a new light by asking whether ICE can fully comply with the law, effectively manage its sprawling detention system and create a system better suited to civil detainees."

The report is available here.