In the Face of Realignment, Are ICE Detainees Worth the Risk?

In the Face of Realignment, Are ICE Detainees Worth the Risk?

May 29, 2012 | Sarah True, Program Associate, NCCD

With a deportation quota of 400,000 individuals per year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has turned to local jurisdictions to help detain undocumented individuals pending deportation. As I will explain, this has become a way for counties to use extra space in their jails in order to secure additional federal money for their local budgets. But the question arises: What happens when counties don’t have extra space?

With a deportation quota of 400,000 individuals per year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has turned to local jurisdictions to help detain undocumented individuals pending deportation. As I will explain, this has become a way for counties to use extra space in their jails in order to secure additional federal money for their local budgets. But the question arises: What happens when counties don’t have extra space? It is a particularly poignant question for California’s counties that are preparing for an increase in jail population after realignment begins to take effect.

Though there are multiple ways in which ICE detainees end up in local jails, this post will focus on Intergovernmental Service Agreements (IGSAs). An IGSA is a contract between ICE and a county jail. ICE pays the county a per diem to house federal ICE detainees who are awaiting trial or deportation. A few qualities of this contract can be appealing to county sheriffs:

  • The federal money from IGSAs is incorporated into the sheriff’s entire budget—this is quite a selling point given the current economic climate for most local budgets.
  • It bolsters a tough-on-crime, tough-on-homeland-security image that is commonly the crux of a sheriff’s election campaign.
  • Many counties quite vehemently support strict immigration and deportation laws and see this as a way to get some extra money and help keep immigrants at bay.

Several counties in California have contracted with ICE, including LA County, Orange County, and Yuba County. And perhaps it has been a sustainable way for these counties to supplement their budgets. However, I would question the sustainability of this strategy once jails begin to fill up with local offenders that, after realignment, will be redirected to county facilities. Will a sheriff’s desire for ICE money take precedent over providing a safe and sanitary living space for a jail population? Here are a number of reasons why it should not:

  • After the addition of “realigned inmates,” the potential for ICE detainees to overcrowd the jail is not worth the risk of the inevitable compromises in services, sanitation, and safety of a jail—the consequences of which the sheriff will undoubtedly be held accountable.
  • These ICE inmates have nothing to do with the public safety of the jurisdiction in which they’re held. In other words, they are not the concern of county sheriffs.
  • The inmates who are of concern to the county sheriff—including realigned inmates—have a right to the above-mentioned services, sanitation, and safety in their place of confinement. The sheriff is responsible to guarantee these rights when faced with an overcrowded jail.
  • 9.9 million of California’s population is foreign-born, meaning that sheriffs run the risk of isolating a large constituency of the population. This is particularly salient in light of the first reason on the pro-IGSA list above.

Though the desire for the extra federal money ICE detainees bring is understandable, I am apprehensive it will raise a false pressure to expand jail capacity. If a sheriff feels pressured to accommodate a growing number of jail inmates, he or she may push for a new facility, turn to privatization, or challenge the realignment program. However, the simplest and least contentious first step to take in relieving any overcrowding is to act on the “right of refusal” clause written into most IGSAs and remove any inmates who are not of direct concern to a jurisdiction’s public safety.

For more information on ICE’s relationship with local counties, see the following report: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/detentionreportSept1009.pdf

Sarah True is a Program Associate at NCCD.