AP/USA Today reports: (summary)
An Associated Press computer analysis conducted in Jan. 2009 indicates the total detainee population of 32,000, most in crony-owned private prisons. Since 2003, the incarceration expenses for these detainees have nearly doubled to an annual amount of $1.7 billion as furor over "criminal aliens" intertwined with post-9/11 fears and anti-immigrant political rhetoric. The data show nearly 60% (18,690) of the detainees have no criminal conviction, including none for illegal entry or low-level crimes like trespassing. More than 400 of those with no criminal record had been incarcerated for at least a year. A dozen had been held for three years or more; one man from China had been locked up for more than five years. Nearly 10,000 had been in custody longer than 31 days -- the average detention stay that ICE cites as evidence of its effective detention management. Especially tough bail conditions are exacerbated by disregard or bending of the rules regarding how long immigrants can be detained. Based on a 2001 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, ICE has about six months to deport or release immigrants after their case is decided, however that deadline is routinely missed. In the system snapshot provided to the AP, 950 people were in that category.
Most detainees have not had their day in court, are not provided a lawyer, are not classified as prisoners, nor are they allowed to post bond, even those with no criminal record. U.S. taxpayers pay about $141 a night for each detainees to these crony owned private prisons. The use of detention to ensure immigrants show up for immigration court comes at a high cost compared to alternatives like electronic ankle monitoring, which can track people for an average daily cost of $13 per day and, per ICE stats, has an almost perfect compliance rate. Taxpayers are grossly overpaying political cronies for inhumane, understaffed and vermin/disease infested private prisons.
Examples of Detainees: an honors student who was raised in Orlando, Fla.; a convenience store clerk who begged to go back to Canada; and a Pentecostal minister who was forcibly drugged by ICE agents after he asked to contact his wife, according to court records.
Many Detainees are Asylum Seekers vs Illegal Immigrants:
Immigration lawyers note that substantial numbers of detainees, from 177 countries in the data provided, are not illegal immigrants at all. Many of the longest-term non-criminal detainees are asylum seekers fighting to stay here because they fear being killed in their home country. Others are longtime residents who may be eligible to stay under other criteria, or whose applications for permanent residency were lost or mishandled, the lawyers say.
Still other long-term detainees include people who can't be deported because their home country won't accept them or people who seemingly have been forgotten in the behemoth system, where 58 percent have no lawyers or anyone else advocating on their behalf.
Longer Detention Means More Taxpayer Money for Cronies:
But even giving up, or winning a claim, doesn't always spell freedom for detainees because ICE acts as police officer, arraignment judge, jailer and prosecutor. It has sole jurisdiction over when a detained immigrant is sent back after a deportation order is issued, and can continue to hold immigrants while it appeals a decision that didn't go its way. In 2007, an immigration judge ruled that Samuel Kambo, a former energy minister of Sierra Leone who had a master's degree and no criminal history, should be granted permanent residency after being detained for eight months. But ICE continued to hold him for four more months while it appealed. Kambo was released only after his lawyer went to federal court and made a successful constitutional challenge.
In another telling case, Ahmad Al-Shrmany, a 34-year-old Iraqi with no appeal pending, begged for a year to be deported and yet remained in detention. He wanted to be allowed to go to his native Iraq or his adopted Canada, where he had been granted asylum a decade ago. A lawyer filed a habeas corpus petition in December that went unanswered. "Just deport me. That's your job," he said in a late January interview with the AP that ICE officials tried to block minutes before it was scheduled at a Houston lockup. Less than a week after the interview, Al-Shrmany was deported to Canada, said his lawyer, Afreen Ahmed. ICE said later the timing of the deportation was "completely coincidental."