New Report Makes Clear: As Detention Capacity Increases, So Do ICE Arrests

Report underscores how immigration detention capacity is a key driver of ICE enforcement.

New Report Makes Clear: As Detention Capacity Increases, So Do ICE Arrests

Manhattan, USA – 11. November 2021: US Customs and border protection vehicle and officer in NYC. Veterans Day parade in Manhattan. ICE officer. (Shutterstock)

By Detention Watch Network

Washington, DC — A new report from Detention Watch Network, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, and Ceres Policy Research outlines the direct link between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests and the availability and capacity of immigration detention centers. The report – If You Build It, ICE Will Fill It – demonstrates that immigrants in counties with more detention space and counties with an overall higher carceral capacity are significantly more likely to be arrested and detained by ICE.

“We need to defund and end immigration detention and instead, invest in resources that support and protect our communities,” said Gabriela Viera, advocacy manager at Detention Watch Network. “The evidence in our report shows that the mere existence of detention centers leads to increased arrests, funneling people into an inhumane system where neglect, abuse, and violence are endemic. Our communities become safer when ICE detention facilities are shut down, plain and simple.”

“Our research underscores what we in the immigrant rights movement have long known: immigration detention is entrenched within mass incarceration in every county and state in the US,” said Mitzia Martinez, Ceres Policy Research. “Racist policing from immigration agents and local law enforcement officers feed immigrants into ICE’s detention and deportation machine. Communities of color, particularly Black immigrant communities, are targeted most. Shrinking and ultimately abolishing the detention system must be a priority in the fight for immigrant and racial justice.”

“The evidence is clear. Our strategies must include paths to closing these abusive facilities,” said Grisel Ruiz, supervising attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. “Closing these cages once and for all, and for all carceral purposes, ensures that fewer families are funneled into the detention and deportation system. It ensures that we are free to reimagine a reality we know is possible – one where we divest from cages and invest directly in the health and safety of our communities.”

In this report, Detention Watch Network and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center worked with Ceres Policy Research to compile data from more than 2,600 counties on local detention capacity and apprehension rates from a variety of primary and secondary sources, including Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse and ICE’s public records.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Immigrants in counties with a detention capacity of just 50 people are more than twice as likely to be arrested
  • The highest number of ICE arrests occur in counties with the highest proportion of criminal law enforcement arrests, and immigrants in these counties were four times more vulnerable to arrest
  • The counties with the highest number of apprehensions closely align with the locations of some of ICE’s largest immigration detention facilities

“In Philadelphia, we’re seeing an uptick in ICE arrests which we strongly believe is linked to the Moshannon Valley Correctional Center, the largest immigration detention facility in the Northeast that opened last year,” said Erika Guadalupe Núñez, executive director of Juntos. “ICE currently incarcerates nearly 900 people at this facility who are deeply missed by their loved ones and communities. The almost 1,000 empty beds at Moshannon greenlight ICE to violently profile and target immigrants in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, and beyond. So long as immigration detention facilities exist, there will be a demand to fill them. So long as immigration detention facilities exist, we will demand their closure.”

Since its inception in 2003, ICE has built and expanded a massive infrastructure of immigration jails, surveillance programs, and enforcement agents. The current enforcement-centered response to migration, supported by ever-increasing Congressional appropriations, has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deportations each year separating families and communities across the country. Over the last two decades, the budget for ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), which includes its account for immigration detention, has quadrupled. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, detention levels hit historic peaks of more than 50,000 people per day.

Advocates are calling for the elimination of detention capacity to keep our communities safe from the clutches of immigrant incarceration, as well as ICE’s broader enforcement regime that discriminately propels people towards deportation. Instead of detention, advocates are urging elected officials to invest in alternative economies that do not rely on policing and incarceration, and instead address real community needs.

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