Immigrant Detention

October 23, 2015 • Volume 25, Issue 38
Is the system too harsh?
By Reed Karaim


An immigrant facing deportation awaits a ruling at a U.S. Immigration (Getty Images/John Moore)
An immigrant facing deportation awaits a ruling at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in Florence, Ariz. More people are held in the federal government's 250 detention centers than in federal prisons. (Getty Images/John Moore)

In 2014, 425,000 undocumented immigrants — far more people than are held in federal prisons — were held in the 250 detention centers run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Most of the detainees were awaiting deportation or a ruling on their eligibility to remain in the United States, including thousands of Central American mothers and children seeking asylum from gang violence at home. While most detainees move through the system in days or weeks, some are held for months or even years waiting for backlogged immigration courts to settle their cases. Critics say the detention system leads to physical and mental abuse, the breakup of immigrant families and, in some cases, death by suicide or neglect. Most detainees pose no risk of flight or criminal behavior and should be free pending their hearings, immigrant supporters contend. But groups seeking tighter curbs on immigration say detention is necessary to protect public safety and to ensure that undocumented immigrants do not disappear into the general population before their cases are decided.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Immigration and Naturalization
Mar. 19, 2021  Immigration Overhaul
Feb. 24, 2017  Immigrants and the Economy
Sep. 02, 2016  U.S.-Mexico Relations
Oct. 23, 2015  Immigrant Detention
Sep. 27, 2013  Border Security
Mar. 09, 2012  Immigration Conflict
Dec. 2010  Europe's Immigration Turmoil
Sep. 19, 2008  America's Border Fence
Feb. 01, 2008  Immigration Debate Updated
May 04, 2007  Real ID
May 06, 2005  Illegal Immigration
Jul. 14, 2000  Debate Over Immigration
Jan. 24, 1997  The New Immigrants
Feb. 03, 1995  Cracking Down on Immigration
Sep. 24, 1993  Immigration Reform
Apr. 24, 1992  Illegal Immigration
Jun. 13, 1986  Immigration
Dec. 10, 1976  Illegal Immigration
Dec. 13, 1974  The New Immigration
Feb. 12, 1964  Immigration Policy Revision
Feb. 06, 1957  Immigration Policy
Nov. 27, 1951  Emigration from Europe
Feb. 09, 1945  Immigration to Palestine
Sep. 30, 1940  Forced Migrations
Apr. 18, 1939  Immigration and Deportation
Jul. 27, 1931  Deportation of Aliens
Mar. 12, 1929  The National-Origin Immigration Plan
Aug. 19, 1927  Immigration from Canada and Latin America
Nov. 01, 1926  Quota Control and the National Origin System
Jul. 12, 1924  Immigration and its Relation to Political and Economic Theories and Party Affiliation
Campaigns and Elections
Civil Rights and Civil Liberty Issues
Crime and Law Enforcement
Domestic Issues
Immigration and Naturalization
Sentencing and Corrections