These County Jails Shamelessly Detained Immigrants for ICE

Emily Ryo, Ian Peacock

Hundreds of county jails in the U.S. are paid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain immigrants facing removal proceedings.

On a typical day in 2017, for instance, Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, California, operated by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, held about 500 individuals for ICE and received US$118 per person per day, bringing in a total of $59,000 a day.

More so than federally operated facilities, county jails, along with facilities operated by for-profit companies, have come to hold for ICE the lion’s share of immigrant detainees facing removal proceedings.

Removal proceedings are civil actions that federal immigration authorities bring against individuals alleged to have violated U.S. immigration laws. And U.S. law treats immigration detention as civil, not criminal, confinement.

So why are these immigrants being held in county jails, the place where usually only those charged with criminal law violations are held by local, not federal, officials?

In our study published on January 29, we set out to investigate this widespread use of local penal institutions for civil confinement purposes. As scholars who study immigration, we wanted to understand which counties jail immigrant detainees and what those counties have in common.

Agreements with ICE

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