About The U.S. Detention and Deportation System

The U.S. government detained approximately 400,000 people in immigration custody in 2012 in a hodgepodge of about 250 facilities at an annual cost of more than $1.7 billion. Did you know?

  • Immigrants in detention include families, both undocumented and documented immigrants, many who have been in the US for years and are now facing exile, survivors of torture, asylum seekers and other vulnerable groups including pregnant women, and individuals who are seriously ill without proper medication or care.
  • Being in violation of immigration laws is not a crime. It is a civil violation for which immigrants go through a process to see whether they have a right to stay in the United States. Immigrants detained during this process are in non-criminal custody. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the agency responsible for detaining immigrants.
  • The average cost of detaining an immigrant is approximately $164 per person/ per day. Community-based alternative programs, are effective and significantly cheaper, with some programs costing as little as $12 per day. These alternatives still yield an estimated 93% appearance rate before the immigration courts.
  • Although DHS owns and operates its own detention centers, it also “buys” bed space from over 200 county and city prisons nationwide to hold the majority of those who are detained (over 67%).
  • Torture survivors, victims of human trafficking, and other vulnerable groups can be detained for months or even years, further aggravating their isolation, depression, and other mental health problems associated with their past trauma.
  • As a result of this surge in detention and deportation, immigrants are suffering poor conditions and abuse in detention facilities across the country and families are being separated often for life while the private prison industry and county jailers are reaping huge profits.

Learn More:

Read about the History of Immigration Detention in the U.S. and why it is a dire human rights issue.

Explore the structure and impact of ICE Enforcement and find out who profits along the Money Trail. Find out more about Border Enforcement and Short-Term Detention.

Educate yourself and others about Conditions in Detention and learn about Detention Alternatives.

Check out our Stories of immigrants in detention and use the Detention Map to find local detention centers near you.