Report: De Facto Quotas Are Driving the Mass Incarceration of Immigrants

On June 3, 19-year-old Lilian Yamileth was discovered slumped against the bathroom floor in a pool of her own blood at an immigrant detention center in Karnes County, Texas. She had tried to commit suicide because her asylum claim was rejected by an immigration court judge. Now, the young mother knew, she and her four-year-old son would have to return to Honduras, where they would have to endure the presence of her abusive partner.

Yamileth was one of thousands of immigrants who are locked in American detention facilities each year (Javier Maldonado, Yamileth's attorney, told the Houston Press that Yamileth was deported last Tuesday morning). In a report released Thursday, the Detention Watch Network, a national coalition, and the Center for Constitutional Rights, a nonprofit legal organization, argue that masses of people like Yamileth are incarcerated annually because of a system of immigration enforcement under pressure to fill quotas established by private companies that contract with the government.

The de facto immigration detention quota began on a national level with legislation enacted post-9/11, but the Detention Watch Network and the Center for Constitutional Rights argue that privatized detention, which has grown significantly in the last decade, has spurred the rates at which immigrants are detained and have turned them into a commodity: in 2012, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained 478,000 people. Today, more than half of the beds in immigration jails are run by for-profit companies.

Some key developments in the history of privatized detention have happened right here in Houston. In 1984, the Corrections Corporation of America built the Houston Processing Center, an immigrant detention center that was also the country’s first private prison. And in 2003, that same company contracted with the federal government to deliver one of the nation's first immigrant detention quotas: under the deal, ICE would have to make payments to CCA as if the center was holding 375 people at all times - even if those spots weren't filled. The groups that wrote Thursday's report maintain that this kind of contract drives ICE officials and local detention centers to fill the spots they have, for fear of losing money. 
The report also states that all together, Texas immigration detention centers - from Houston, to El Paso, to San Antonio - have a known total quota of 3,255 people. And while it's unclear whether Karnes, where Yamileth was detained, has such a requirement (the report found no evidence of one), the facility is run by The Geo Group, a company that has a larger total quota than any other US-based private correctional contractor.

“Local quotas with private contractors and the infrastructure of detention itself have driven this market: all at a huge expense to families detained arbitrarily and to taxpayers footing the bill,” said Silky Shah, co-director of Detention Watch Network, during a press call held today that accompanied the report's release.

"The decision to detain someone should be made on a case-by-case basis. It should be made by professionals in law enforcement, not by politicians in Washington, and certainly not as a result of prepaid bed quotas," said Congressman Ted Deutch (D-Fla.).
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Zoë Kirsch