November 27, 2018
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Homeland Security, Unlike Justice Dept., May Not Drop Private Prisons

By Andrew Becker

Immigration officials may have to continue using private jails to hold immigrants fighting deportation amid budget limitations and an ongoing crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border of arriving Central American migrants, according to a draft advisory report to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson released today.

Despite calls to follow the Justice Department’s August decision to reduce and eventually stop sending inmates to for-profit prisons, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement needs the bed space to hold detainees, a five-member panel concluded in its report.


But the agency, which is part of the Homeland Security Department, needs enhanced oversight, more resources, expanded health care and to negotiate with county jails, which often hold detainees, to improve conditions. The agency should also strive to keep immigrants there for no more than three days, which could prove difficult with the current number of detainees. The panel also called on Congress to provide support.

Those were among the 14 recommendations offered by a subcommittee of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, which Johnson asked to conduct the review in late August. The findings, which the full council will review and vote on today, echo previous recommendations by various immigrant advocates and civil-rights groups.

But what influence the recommendations may have with the administration of President-elect Donald Trump, who has pledged to be tough on illegal immigration, which could include deporting upward of 2 million immigrants, remains to be seen.

The surge of migrants, who come primarily from Central American countries but also Haiti and elsewhere, has ballooned the number of immigrants detained beyond the mandated daily average of 34,000 to upward of 41,000, according to recent Homeland Security figures.

The Subcommittee on Privatized Immigration Detention Facilities, composed of former government officials, an immigrant-rights advocate and other consultants, spent two months reviewing the agency’s current detention system, including visits to both private and ICE-run facilities.

The panel found that 65 percent of detainees are held in private facilities, with another 25 percent locked up in county jails that contract with the federal government. In its report, the reviewers said the core question was not who runs the facilities, but how they are run.


The recommendations come the same day as the Detention Watch Network, an immigrant-rights advocacy group, issued its own report, highlighting what it called a lack of accountability and cost-cutting measures that hurt immigrants while padding contractors profits.

Reveal from The Center of Investigative Reporting will update this post as more information becomes available.

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