Advocates sound the alarm: The number of people in ICE detention spikes under the Biden Administration to over 20k

For Immediate Release: 
Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Washington, DC — Detention Watch Network is sounding the alarm that the number of people in Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) detention system has seen a sudden spike under the Biden administration. ICE’s COVID statistics webpage indicates that there are 20,430 people in ICE custody as of May 14, a nearly 33 percent increase since the start of Biden’s administration when there were 15,415 people in ICE custody. 

“The rising number of people in detention is unacceptable, full stop. The administration has claimed that action is forthcoming to roll back ICE’s abusive detention system, and yet we are seeing the continued reliance on this fraught system that puts lives at risk,” said Setareh Ghandehari, Advocacy Director. “Simply put, people should be able to navigate their immigration case at home and with community support if needed — not behind bars in immigration detention.”

Immigration detention reached its height in Fiscal Year 2019 when the U.S. government detained a record number of people — more than 50,000 on an average day — and spent nearly $3.2 billion, another record, on detention alone. And while by comparison today’s numbers are lower than in recent years, advocates are disappointed that the Biden administration has yet to address detention, particularly following his remarks against ICE’s detention system just three weeks ago while in Georgia. Advocates are now turning their attention to Biden’s  forthcoming budget proposal slated for release next week.

“Given the Biden administration’s promises to roll back the detention system, end the use of private prisons in ICE detention and fight for racial equity in this country we are alarmed that the administration is setting a dangerous precedent for what’s to come throughout the next four years,” added Ghandehari. “All eyes are on Biden, as we call on the administration to cut funding for ICE in his upcoming budget proposal and reduce funding for detention by at least 75 percent. The number of people in ICE detention should only go down until no one is detained.”


Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition building power through collective advocacy, grassroots organizing, and strategic communications to abolish immigration detention in the United States. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level. Visit Follow on Twitter @DetentionWatch.