Despite President Trump’s virulent anti-migrant rhetoric and his administration’s heavy-handed approach to immigration law enforcement, immigration officials held only slightly more parents and children in its families-only facilities under his tenure as under his predecessor, President Obama. Government statistics I obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show remarkable consistency in the number of people locked up in family immigration prisons from October 1, 2016 to September 24, 2018.
In the two years covered in the released data, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency never detained, on average, fewer than 384 people in its three family residential centers —a low reached in April 2017, shortly into President Trump’s stint in the White House. At the other end of the spectrum, the high-water mark occurred in May 2018, when, at the peak of Trump’s family separation policy, ICE held 2,485 people in its family prisons. The following month the number dipped just barely to 2,451.
My records request focused on President Trump’s time in office, but it does include a few months under Obama. Interestingly, the data reveal that President Obama’s immigration officials were similarly busy filling immigration prisons, at least in the final months of the administration’s term. From October 2016 to January 2017, most of which was under President Obama, ICE’s family prisons held between 1,772 and 2,399 people.
Across the almost two years covered, there is an upward trend. In fiscal year 2017 (from October 1, 2016 to September 31, 2017), ICE’s family prisons held 1,476 people. In the part of fiscal year 2018 for which I have data (from October 1, 2017 to September 24, 2018), those facilities held about 2,115 people on an average day. I submitted a separate request for data beginning September 1, 2018. When I get that information, I’ll eventually be able to update this annual average.
In every month of this two-year period, the South Texas Family Residential Center, a prison in Dilley, Texas, run by private prison corporation CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America), held the largest number of migrants. From a low of 229 people held in April 2017 to a high of 1,907 people held in May 2018, the STFRC was clearly busy.
The Karnes County Residential Center, operated by CoreCivic’s competetior GEO Group, also held a low in April 2017 (111 people on average), but hit its peak under Obama in November 2016 when it held 602 people on an average day. The much smaller Berks Family Residential Center, run by the government of Berks County, Pennsylvania, is much smaller. It held a low of 37 people in August 2018 and a high of 80 people in both November and December 2016.
These data reflect incarceration in ICE’s family prisons only. They do not account for the much larger number of children detained without adult relatives in facilities operated on behalf of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of the Department of Health and Human Services.