On this dayOct 28, 2009

“Bed Quota” First Appears in Immigration Detention Legislation

On October 28, 2009, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) introduced the “detention bed quota” in an appropriations bill, mandating that “funding made available . . . shall maintain a level of not less than 33,400 detention beds.” This language required that an average of 34,000 men, women and children be detained in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities at all times.

The arbitrary number was not at all correlated to actual rates of border crossings, which had dropped in recent years. Additionally, contrary to public perception, the mandate did not require that detainees be facing criminal charges, and prevented government officials from exercising discretion that would allow them to release people who posed no risk to public safety as they awaited their immigration hearings.

As a result of the unprecedented rise in detentions, in part fueled by legislation like this, private prison companies have secured hundreds of millions of dollars worth of ICE contracts while lobbying Congress on immigration enforcement issues. Though detention centers are not supposed to be punitive facilities, they are plagued with overcrowding, illness, violence, hard labor, and segregation. Between 2003 and 2013, 111 people reportedly died in ICE detention centers, often due to a lack of medical care; nearly 1 in 5 of those who died committed suicide.

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