AP Explains: How immigration detention works

February 11, 2019 GMT

PHOENIX (AP) — A new proposal by Democrats in negotiations for a funding bill to avert another government shutdown would cap the number of people the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is allowed to hold in detention.

They say they want ICE to focus its interior enforcement — outside of the border — on criminals only. Being in the country illegally is an administrative violation, not a crime.

Democrats say they want to limit the number of detainees who were arrested outside of the border to 16,500. Their proposal, blasted by President Donald Trump, would also fund the detainment of 35,520 people overall. ICE currently detains about 45,000 immigrants on average per day and is currently funded to hold 40,000, according to the agency.

This is how immigration detention in the U.S. works:

Q - What is the difference between immigrants who are arrested beyond the border region and those arrested at the border?

A - Immigrants who are arrested in the interior of the country often have already spent time in United States and can be arrested a number of ways, such as through targeted operations, or stings, or if they come in contact with local law enforcement agencies who contact ICE.

ICE has agreements with police departments and sheriff’s offices, which notify ICE or allow ICE agents to work in their jails to check the immigration status of immigrants arrested for non-immigration related crimes. But ICE also detains immigrants who were arrested at the border.

Q - Where are immigrants who are detained by ICE placed?

Most of the people are actually managed by private contractors like CoreCivic and The Geo Group, two of the largest private contractors in the nation. ICE has detainees in over 200 facilities around the country, most of which are run by contractors.

Q - How many immigrants that ICE detains have criminal convictions?

A - Of the 158,581 arrests by ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations division during the 2018 fiscal year, two-thirds were convicted criminals, more than 1 in 5 had pending criminal charges and the remainder (20,464) had no criminal convictions or pending charges.

The top four crimes, in order, were: driving under the influence, drug offenses, other traffic offenses and immigration violations.

Q - How is that different from prior years?

A - In 2018, ICE arrested about 20,000 immigrants with no criminal history for being in the country illegally. That’s over twice the number of immigrants without criminal history who were arrested in fiscal year 2016, when President Barack Obama was in office. Obama directed ICE to focus its enforcement priorities on immigrants with criminal convictions.