October 28th, 2009

“Bed Quota” Mandating Detention of 33,000 Immigrants First Appears in 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 was construed and executed as a mandate 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 bears no correlation to actual border crossings, which have dropped in recent years. Additionally, contrary to public perception, the mandate does not require that all people being held have any criminal involvement, yet it prevents government officials from exercising discretion that would allow them to release people who pose no risk to public safety as they await their immigration hearings.

As a result of the unprecedented rise in detentions, private prison companies have secured hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of ICE contracts while lobbying Congress on immigration enforcement issues. Despite insistence that the detention centers are not meant to be punitive, they are plagued with overcrowding, illness, violence, hard labor, and segregation. Between 2003 and 2013, there were 111 reported deaths in ICE detention centers. Many of the deaths were caused by a lack of medical care, and nearly a fifth were suicides.