What to Know About ‘Detention Beds’ and the Shutdown Talks

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First came the wall. Now U.S. leaders trying to avert another government shutdown are hung up on beds. At issue is how many people can be detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency in charge of carrying out President Donald Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants. The impasse increases the risk that funding for some federal departments — including the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE — will lapse at the end of the week, forcing many departments to close once again.

1. What are detention beds?

It’s shorthand for the capacity of the various facilities in which the U.S. government detains noncitizens facing matters in immigration court. In recent years, the average daily detention population has exceeded the number of funded beds. It costs about $160 per night for each person in ICE custody, which is higher than the cost to care for the regular prison population.

2. How many beds are there?

There are currently 40,520 ICE immigration detention beds funded by Congress; that’s up from 21,100 in 2002 and 34,000 beds in 2016, according to the Congressional Research Service. The average daily detention population hit a record high in 2018 — 44,631 people a day, according to The Daily Beast. Lawmakers and immigration activists have criticized ICE for redirecting money from other sources to fund the uptick in detentions.

3. What’s the fight?

Heading into the talks over immigration-related spending, including Trump’s hoped-for border wall, the White House sought to increase the number of beds to 52,000. Democrats want to decrease the number to 35,520 for the rest of this fiscal year, with 1,250 of that total designated for family detention and phased out by next year. In addition, Democrats want to cap detention beds at 16,500 for individuals apprehended as part of what’s known as interior enforcement operations — meaning undocumented immigrants apprehended in their communities or workplaces, not crossing the border.

4. Why does the number matter?

For Democrats, capping the number of detention beds is a way to limit how many noncitizens get swept up by law enforcement under Trump’s souped-up effort to find and detain people who are in the U.S. without proper authorization. Immigration advocates have been sounding the alarm about ICE raids that target people who entered the country illegally or overstayed a visa but are otherwise working and contributing to their communities. “A cap on ICE detention beds will force the Trump administration to prioritize deportation for criminals and people who pose real security threats, not law-abiding immigrants who are contributing to our country,” said Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard, a California Democrat who leads the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. Republicans accused Democrats, in raising the issue of detention beds, of introducing a “poison pill” that will doom the chances of getting a deal Trump will sign.

5. Who gets put in detention?

Since the 1980s, Congress has required that noncitizens waiting to seek asylum, or fight deportation, before an immigration judge must be detained if they’ve been convicted of certain serious crimes. After being expanded repeatedly, that list of crimes now ranges from murder and rape to battery, fraud, even filing a false tax return. This is why Trump and his supporters say fewer beds means criminals on the streets. “Donald Trump is not going to sign any bill that reduces the number of bed spaces available to hold violent offenders,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and Trump ally, said on Fox News on Sunday. On the other hand, undocumented aliens who have not been accused of any crimes are also among those detained, though they also can be paroled or released on bond. This is why Trump’s critics can say that for most detained immigrants, “their only crime is being undocumented.”

6. Where are all these beds?

The ICE website maps 71 detention facilities across the U.S., but detainees are also held at local jails, federal prisons, immigration processing centers — even at hotels, according to the National Immigrant Justice Center. According to the Migration Policy Institute, almost 75 percent of immigration detainees were held in facilities operated by private prison companies on a typical day in August 2016. The Associated Press reported last year that ICE pays private companies to hold about two-thirds of those detained for being in the country illegally, with the largest part of that business contracted to CoreCivic Inc. and GEO Group. More than a year ago, ICE announced plans for more detention centers in Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana.

7. Why is this coming up now?

Actually, the number of beds has come up throughout the multi-month fight over spending on homeland security. The limit on detention beds was included in the Democrats’ opening offer last month, and it emerged as one of the final sticking points after most other issues were close to being finalized. As negotiations covered other ground, the limit on detention beds remained part of the Democratic position. When they refused to back away from it during weekend negotiations, the talks hit a roadblock.

To contact the reporters on this story: Anna Edgerton in Washington at aedgerton@bloomberg.net;Arit John in Washington at ajohn34@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Laurence Arnold

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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