The budget bill making its way through Congress and expected to receive the president’s signature offers plenty of money for immigration imprisonment. If enacted, the bill would fund federal government operations through September 30, 2017.
The nation’s immigration imprisonment regime is delegated among various agencies. Some agencies hold migrants under civil law authority and others use criminal confinement powers. All hold people who are not United States citizens because of the federal government’s claims that they violated some provision of immigration law.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security maintains the largest and most well-known component. Stretching back to 2010, Congress has required DHS to pay for 34,000 beds per night. Advocates have derisively referred to this as the immigration bed quota. The latest budget proposal lifts that arbitrary floor, but gives ICE enough money to pay for 39,324 beds. To pay for these beds, the agency’s Enforcement and Removal Operations division will receive approximately $2.7 billion ($2,705,412,000 to be exact) for its Custody Operations. For some reason, this allocation is divided into the bill’s Title II (departmental operations) and Title VI (additional appropriations). Combined, the $2.7 billion for ICE detention is $378 million over the president’s request. “This additional funding,” a report issued by the House of Representatives explains, “reflects the surge in the number of aliens placed into removal proceedings and detention after crossing our southern border during the first quarter of fiscal year 2017.” To be more precise, the report should have instead focused on the Trump Administration’s goal of increasing the number of people imprisoned by ICE despite having reached a historically unprecedented scale under President Obama.
Interestingly, Congress was willing to increase immigration detention bed funding despite lodging strong criticism of ICE’s detention management practices. “The lack of fiscal discipline and cavalier management of funding for detention operations, evidenced by inaccurate budget formulation and uneven execution, seems to be the result of a perception that ERO is funded by an indefinite appropriation. This belief is incorrect,” the accompanying House of Representatives report declared.
Bowing to some pressure, Congress wants ICE to improve conditions inside ICE detention. It instructs ICE to ensure that any new detention contracts incorporate the most updated detention standards, originally promulgated in 2011. Currently there is a patchwork of three different detention standards that apply to ICE-contracted facilities. An analysis of facility contracts in 2011 and 2012 found that sixty-five of 103 examined contract sites used older standards. Congress also instructed ICE to report to it which standards its contracted facilities are subject to. ICE is required to do this within forty-five days of the president signing the bill into law.
Meanwhile, the United States Marshals Service, housed within the Justice Department, imprisons about 100,000 people charged with entering the United States without the federal government’s permission, the basis for one of two federal immigration crimes. For the next five months, USMS gets $10 million for building construction and roughly $1.4 billion ($1,454,414,000) for federal prisoner detention. Its counterpart in the Justice Department, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, is responsible for confinement of everyone convicted of any federal crime and sentenced to imprisonment. The BOP is allocated $50 million specifically for construction of new facilities.
All three immigration prison agencies—ICE, USMS, and BOP—rely heavily on contracts with private prison corporations. Though the private prison industry had remarkable financial success under President Obama, as the first government-wide budget bill likely to receive President Trump’s signature, this budget suggests that the good times are far from over for the confinement industry.