Today we have the lowest number of people in immigration detention in over 20 years. On day one of the Biden Administration, this number must only trend down

For Immediate Release: 
Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Washington, DC — Right now there are 15,415 people in immigration detention — the lowest number since 1999 when there were 17,772 people. However, this number does not reflect immigrant rights advocates’ resolute demands to free all people from detention, nor public outcry over Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s unjust and fundamentally flawed system.

Silky Shah, Executive Director of Detention Watch Network issued the following statement outlining the state of immigration detention and demanding President-elect Joe Biden continue to reduce the number of people in immigration detention during his term:

“Detention numbers are at their lowest in 20 years because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Trump administration’s expanded use of fast-tracked deportations, asylum bans, and the border closure. While the current reduction of people in detention is not a reflection of positive policy reforms, it does underscore the arbitrary number of people in detention and why the system is unnecessary.  

“Let us be clear: People navigating their immigration case should be able to do so with their families and loved ones — not behind bars in immigration detention. The system simply does not need to exist.

“On day one of the Biden administration, the number of people in detention must only trend down. Biden must lead with not only a moratorium on deportations and enforcement but by releasing people from detention and shutting down facilities until the system is abolished in its entirety.”

During the Trump presidency the administration cruelly expanded the detention system by more than 40 percent, and at the height of its expansion detained 55,000 people. Advocates signal that understanding the current landscape of the immigration detention system is vital heading into a Biden administration and a Democratic majority in Congress. 

The Current state of immigration detention: 

Prior to Democrats gaining the majority, Congress passed a federal funding bill that poured $23 billion in the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration detention and deportation system. Specifically, $2.8 billion was allocated to ICE to detain up to 34,000 people in immigrant detention daily — over double the current population.


Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to expose and challenge the injustices of the United States’ immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for profound change that promotes the rights and dignity of all persons. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level to end immigration detention. Visit Follow on Twitter @DetentionWatch.