Almost 2,000 miles north from the U.S. Mexico border in Tacoma, Washington, the detention center used to be brimming with as many as 1,300 illegal aliens. But since Joe Biden has been president and federal agents have been instructed not to arrest but to catch and release illegal crossers, hundreds of beds there and across the country are empty — costing taxpayers $1 million a day.
Taxpayer-funded National Public Radio (NPR) reported on its analysis of ICE detention centers:
Because of the way ICE structures its contracts with private companies and localities that own and operate the detention centers, the agency guarantees it will pay for a minimum number of beds whether they are filled or not. For dozens of detention centers across the country with these “guaranteed minimums,” ICE pays more than $1 million a day for empty detention beds.
“The numbers that we have right now on detention are the lowest they’ve been in 20 years,” Silky Shah, executive director of the nonprofit Detention Watch Network, said in the NPR report. “But we have the capacity for a lot more, and a lot of those beds continue to get paid for.”
While noting that the coronavirus pandemic also led to detention populations being thinned out, NPR reported that the real issue is not border security but the policy of incarcerating people who enter the United States illegally.
Now ICE is paying for more unused space than ever before, and a larger national debate has been heating up about whether the government should be locking up many of these immigrants in the first place. Critics say this isn’t just about money but about the morality of putting immigrants behind bars for civil violations. Many ICE detainees have not been convicted of any crimes.
“I think that’s a real question for the administration,” Shah said in the NPR report. “Do they want to continue to detain people because of what the Trump administration put in place? Or do they want to actually move towards the more morally appropriate position of actually not detaining tons of people.”
NPR’s report also focused on what it called the controversy of ICE detention centers being run by private contractors and cited a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report earlier this year that criticized how ICE negotiates its detention contracts.
ICE said the GAO’s findings “lack context,” in a statement released after the report was published. The report didn’t take into account the “dramatic fluctuations” in the number of aliens ICE detained between 2018, when arrests increased, and 2020, when the coronavirus led to the release of detainees from centers around the country.
“Now activists see a new opportunity with President Biden in the White House,” NPR reported. “While running for president Biden’s platform said that the federal government ‘should not use private facilities for any detention, including detention of undocumented immigrants.'”
Biden has moved to get rid of privately run federal prisons but so far he has not acted on immigration detention, according to NPR.
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