Six months into the Biden administration, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is holding as many people as it did before the Covid-19 pandemic sharply curtailed prison populations. In early July 2021, ICE held more people on an average day in its prison network than at any time since April 2020.
ICE records detention data using the federal government's fiscal year which begins October 1. According to the agency’s data, ICE held an average daily population of 27,292 people as of July 3, 2021. This is a substantial increase from the agency’s average daily population of 15,105 people in January 2021, the lowest figure reported during the Trump administration. In February 2021, ICE held even fewer people on an average day. That month, its average daily population bottomed out at 14,091 people. It has been growing ever since.
Early on, the Biden administration announced a series of executive actions and policy shifts meant to signal a sharp break from its predecessor. So far, ICE’s confinement practices are nowhere near records that the agency set under President Trump. Still, it’s not clear to me that the upward trajectory of the Biden administration’s first half year has an obvious endpoint other than funding (H.R. 4431, currently pending in Congress, would reportedly fund about 28,500 beds per day). Indeed, in April I wrote, "I expect the current trajectory to return ICE’s prison population to the Trump era low and continue past it." At its current growth rate, ICE is likely to return to Obama era population counts by the end of 2021.