ICE's Own Figures Show Most Immigrants in Detention Pose No Threat to Public

Illustration: Jorge Rivas

U.S. immigration officials last year classified 51% of the 39,000 immigrants in detention as posing no risk and no threat to the public, according to a new report based on official government data.

The report comes from the National Immigrant Justice Center, a legal services advocacy organization for immigrants. It obtained the figures, along with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), through a Freedom of Information Act request. The report notes this is the “most comprehensive immigration detention data” made available by ICE.


The FOIA request included 10 data sets with information about detainee demographics, inspections history and contract details for more than 1,000 facilities that jail immigrants. Most of the data goes back to at least the past four years.

The data also shows that immigration officials classified another 23% of the detainees as “Level 1” threats—the lowest threat category, which typically includes nonviolent criminal convictions. Only 15% of immigrants in detention were classified with the highest threat designation.

At the Adelanto Detention Facility, the largest detention center in California, the vast majority of detainees were categorized to have the lowest threat level or no threat level at all.
Screenshot: ICE data

The figures also show the “guaranteed minimum” number of detainees that various detention centers are supposed to jail.

The Adelanto Detention contract data lists the facility has a “guaranteed minimum” of 1,455 detainees. The “guaranteed minimum” requires that ICE pay the facility operator for the minimum number of detention beds, regardless of how many people are detained.
Screenshot: ICE Data

Just last month, ICE issued a report claiming the agency “focuses its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security.” Admittedly, it has also warned that it “no longer exempts classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” but the data still contradicts its claim that its priority is capturing hardened criminals.


“ICE’s efforts to paint the people locked up [in detention] as threats and dangerous to our community is inaccurate and dishonest,” Tara Tidwell Cullen, the author of the report, told Splinter.

ICE Press Secretary Jennifer D. Elzea told Splinter that immigration officials make custody determinations on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with U.S. law and DHS policy.


“ICE uses a variety of detention models to meet agency detention needs while achieving the highest possible cost savings for the taxpayers,” Elzea told Splinter via email.

Elzea did not address the data review, saying the agency does not “comment on another organization’s analysis of ICE data because we cannot speak to their methodology.”


But the figures are straightforward. Cullen said she has made the data publicly available and welcomes others to review it.

Department of Homeland Security graph shows estimated average adult bed cost per day in 2016 was $128.88.
Graphic: ICE

According to the data, the agency kept an average of 39,322 immigrants in detention per day in November 2017. About 71% of the average daily population that month were held in privately operated jails, including some juvenile facilities.

In response to this, Elzea said, “ICE provides several levels of oversight in order to ensure that detainees in ICE custody reside in safe and secure environments and under appropriate conditions of confinement.”


The data also has some details that surprised the researchers. For example, the report notes ICE has booked “thousands of people” into a Quality Suites hotel in San Diego since 2016.

ICE books immigrants and families into hotels when they cannot be held in the regular detention facilities and there is no “family residential center nearby,” according to an ICE official who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the matter.

ICE’s Facility List Report includes close to 1,700 locations, including some hotels.
Screenshot: ICE data

The report comes less than a month after Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General found ICE officials did not “follow federal procurement guidelines when contracting for detention services. The IG report found that, in 2014, ICE contracted with “an unnecessary ‘middleman’” that collects about $438,000 in annual fees for this service.


Still, the White House has requested an additional $1.2 billion in the upcoming budget to increase detention capacity to 48,000 detainees per day.

“It’s hard to look at this data and feel like there’s any public interest being served. There’s a lot of companies making money to lock up people in this country,” Cullen said.


You can read the full report here.

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