In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, ICE is holding migrants in its prison system for longer periods. Last month, migrants spent almost two months longer in ICE prisons than one year earlier.
By comparing ICE data on average length of stay, I’m able to consider an important feature of immigration imprisonment across multiple years. Using Freedom of Information Act requests, I’ve previously learned that in June 2018 migrants spent, on average, 36.0 days inside ICE prisons. In June 2019, they spent roughly the same amount of time there: 37.8 days. But in June 2020, the average length of stay skyrocketed to 90.3 days. Similar jumps occurred in from March to May of those years:
This is a significant development. Most reporting on ICE prisons during the pandemic has focused on the agency’s steadfast reluctance to release migrants and the reduction in the number of people held by the agency. While important, those data points overlook the overall danger posed to migrants by ICE’s prison practice. Every day that migrants are imprisoned they are susceptible to contracting the life-threatening illness.
This week, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf said that releasing large numbers of detained migrants would amount to a prison escape. “We’re not going to do a jail break,” Wolf said, presumably forgetting that ICE has discretion to release many migrants. If we’re to take anything from Secretary Wolf’s comment, it’s that people who are currently inside an ICE prison are likely to remain there.