“It is heartbreaking to hear there could be a return to the Trump-era use of” family detention centers at the U.S.-Mexico border, migrant child advocate lawyer Leecia Welch told the New York Times, in an article published last night revealing that the Biden administration is considering reviving migrant family detention. The administration ceased the controversial practice in 2021.
It’s not just heartbreaking. It’s also nonsensical as a deterrent, and remarkably expensive.
As a deterrent: in January CBP encountered 38,308 members of migrant families, most of whom sought to turn themselves in and seek asylum. The monthly average during the Biden administration is 52,652 family members encountered each month.
Compare that to the 2,500 family detention bed spaces that the Trump administration maintained, for up to 20 days at a time per family. That’s perhaps 4,000 spaces per month. 4,000 out of 50,000 is an 8 percent chance of ending up in family detention for a few weeks while asylum officers consider the credibility of a family’s asylum claim. Those odds don’t make for much of a deterrent, if that’s the purpose of administration officials favoring a family detention revival.
Remarkably expensive: Here’s a screenshot from the Trump administration’s 2020 congressional budget request for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The administration was congratulating itself for lowering the daily cost of detaining a migrant family from $319.37 to $295.94 per night in payments to private contractors. (One can only imagine what sort of cutbacks in humane treatment that would have meant.)
Even if the Biden administration were to stick to that austerely low per-night rate, adjusting for inflation now raises it to $344.04 per family per night.
$344 per night to adopt a cruel policy that hardly constitutes a deterrent anyway? What exactly is the goal here?
Even the politics don’t make sense: family detention, if implemented, would horrify and demotivate an important portion of Democratic-leaning voters ahead of the 2024 elections. I urge Biden administration officials to drop this.
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