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Changing mandate regarding immigrant detention

It appears that we’re seeing fewer immigrants held in detention centers in the United States. In any case, the number is the lowest in close to 10 years. Though for most years in the last decade, the numbers of immigrants detained exceeded 30,000, the numbers of immigrants detained in 2015 fell to 26,374 people.

This appears to reflect policy changes at a federal and state level. Also, interpretation of laws may be changing. Previously it was felt that the 34,000 detention beds available in the U.S. required filling. There now no longer appears to be a necessity of always filling what national news outlets have called a quota. For example, Homeland Security Secretary Jeb Johnson testified last year that he interpreted the mandate as only requiring maintaining rather than filling of the beds.

It’s still too early to tell to what extent reductions of individuals detained, if any, will be in the future. It’s also possible that the decline has occurred for other reasons that a changing interpretation of the mandate. Law enforcement officers seem less willing to hold immigrants while Immigration and Customs Enforcement are making decisions on whether to deport them. Instead law enforcement authorities more frequently are trying detention alternatives like the use of ankle bracelets.

While arguably the detention policy should focus on immigrants with gang ties or those who are guilty of domestic violence or drug trafficking, ICE continues to detain individuals who have never committed crimes. Reportedly 44 percent of detainees last year were not “criminals.”

The costs for remaining detained are high for any immigrant. For this reason, experienced immigrant representation is essential. Immigrants come to our country in many instances escape violence or persecution. However, detention becomes just one more nightmare they and their families too often endure.

Source: KPBS, “U.S. Government Holding Fewer Immigrants In Detention,” Joanne Faryon, April 6, 2015

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