ICE Is Keeping People in Immigration Jails for Longer and Longer

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When you think of detention, you might get the sense that it’s something temporary, like after-school detention. But when it comes to immigration, the word “detention” can mean being locked up for eight years.


In 2015, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials detained an average of 28,168 detainees per day. The average person spent 34.4 days in detention, according to a Department of Justice report (see page 93 in the preceding link).

But that same year, “some 3,166 [detainees] had been held for more than a year, including 169 for more than three years, 32 for more than five years, and five for more than eight years,” according to data obtained through public records requests by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse and published today by the Intercept.

The data found that “those detained in for-profit detention centers were held the longest.” A 2013 TRAC report also found immigrants here legally faced the longest time in detention.

What is also alarming is that detentions are getting longer.

In 2015, the average detention lasted 39 days, according to data from the TRAC study reported by the Intercept. This does not track with the DOJ assertion that the average detention lasted 34, not 39, days in 2015. (We have reached out to ICE for comment about the seeming discrepancy and will update if we hear a response.) Whatever the case, ICE told the Intercept that, in 2018, the average detention has lasted 40.5 days—which is longer no matter which 2015 statistic you go by.

An ICE spokesperson told the site that “ongoing case processing and appeals and effectuating difficult removals are the main reasons for longer detention stays.”

ICE told the Intercept that currently, 98% of people held in immigration detention have been released or deported within 276 days. ICE would not comment on the length of detention for the remaining two percent of individuals.


Two percent may sound like a small number, but that’s a lot of people when you consider ICE is projecting they’ll detain some 51,000 people this year.

ICE’s 2018 budget projected the need for a total of 51,379 beds—48,879 adult beds and 2,500 “family beds.” ICE intends to fill those beds with bodies.


An estimated 62% of all ICE immigration detention beds are operated by for-profit prison corporations, according to Grassroots Leadership, a non-profit group that believes “no one should profit from the imprisonment of human beings.”

Senior staff writer