Viable and cheaper alternatives to immigration detention exist

The American Immigration Council’s January 25, 2017 ” The Cost of Immigration Enforcement and Border Security” Fact Sheet indicates that ICE spending has grown 85% since its inception rising from $3.3 billion to $6.1 billion. Efforts are afoot to increase this even further and to expand immigration detention. However, ICE has viable humane alternatives that are about 1/10 of the ever ballooning cost of detention.

On May 8, at a Senate Subcommittee hearing on ICE’s 2019 budget request, Senator Patty Murry D-Washington speaking to the Secretary of Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen said “[a]s you know, detention is really expensive…Each year (U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement) detains someone, it costs taxpayers over $50,000. For comparison, by the way, that’s four times the amount the federal government spends on each child in our public schools.”1 Politifact checked this statement and found it only half true, the more appropriate comparison is that the cost of keeping a person in ICE detention for a year costs as much as four times the total expenditure on a child in public school—including federal, state, and local expenditures.2 Annual federal expenditures on a child in public school are even less.

Senator Murry went on to observe that ICE overspending is directly related to detention and pointed out that ICE’s own alternatives to detention cost only $15,000 per year per person. So while ICE asks for additional billions of dollars a year, largely to unnecessarily detain individuals, ICE has in its budget cheaper and effective alternatives.

DHS OIG studied ICE alternatives to detention and found that “[a]ccording to ICE, the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program is effective because, using its performance metrics, few program participants abscond.”3 Thus, DHS the parent unit of ICE finds that existing alternatives to detention are viable. The National Immigration Forum (NIF) reviewed the cost of these alternative to detention programs and found that detention alternatives cost between $5-6 per person per day.4 NIF also observed that over time the average daily cost per detained migrant has increased, and that a portion of that average daily cost increase reflects a growing reliance on family detention. Though the incarceration of families is only a portion of the detained population, it costs nearly twice as much per person. Based on data released by ICE, NIF calculates that the average cost to detain a migrant is $208 per day or $75,920 per person per year. NIF found that in FY2017, moving one person from detention to an alternative to detention saves the tax payer $189 per day for a total of $68,985 per person per year. With over 40,000 individuals presently in detention, at a cost or more than $3 billion, using alternatives to detention would result in a projected savings of $2.8 billion—nearly the entire cost of ICE detention. Detaining migrants is an unnecessary expense. It is time for Dignity Not Detention in New Mexico.

  1. “Review of the FY2019 Budget Request for the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security | United States Senate Committee on Appropriations | Subcommittee on Homeland Security,” United States Senate Committee on Appropriations, May 8, 2018, pt. 54:10,
  2. Miriam Valverde, “Does Detaining an Immigrant for a Year Cost 4 Times Federal Spending on a Child in Public School? | PolitiFact,” PolitiFact, May 11, 2018,
  3. DHS OIG, “OIG-15-22 – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Alternatives To Detention” (Washington D. C.: Department of Homeland Security, Office of Professional Responsibility, Inspection of Detention and Oversight Division, Office of Inspector General, February 4, 2015), 2,
  4. Laurence Benenson, “The Math of Immigration Detention, 2018 Update: Costs Continue to Multiply,” National Immigration Forum, May 9, 2018,