Congressional “detention bed mandate” draws criticism

Arrests of undocumented immigrants have been on the rise over the past several years, and part of the reason for that is a little-known congressional directive called the “detention bed mandate.”

With the mandate, Congress has dictated that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has to fill the nation’s approximately 34,000 beds, which are spread out over 250 immigrant detention facilities. That has led to thousands of immigrants who don’t have criminal records being locked up for weeks, months or even years, often without the opportunity to appeal or contest their confinement.

Questions about detention policy
At the Department of Homeland Security’s detention center in Henderson, Nev., the story is all too familiar. In one case, Michael Martinez, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, went to his local police department to begin the citizenship application process. Instead, according to the Las Vegas Sun, he was arrested and taken to the detention facility.

“I work and I pay taxes. I care for my family,” Martinez told the Sun. “Then, when I start to try to legalize my status, I’m detained. So I’m not working, and meanwhile the government is paying to lock me up. Now, if they deport me, who will take care of my wife and son, who are U.S. citizens? They’ll be public charges. It makes no sense.”

This sort of detention policy, which is widely criticized by immigrants’ rights advocates and legal professionals, has served to highlight the need for immigration reform. Along with possibly violating the rights of undocumented immigrants, the practice costs U.S. taxpayers more than $2 billion a year, according to NPR.

Even Janet Napolitano, former secretary of the Homeland Security Department, describes the mandate as “artificial,” telling NPR that, “We [the U.S.] ought to be managing the actual detention population to risk, not to an arbitrary number.”