As national immigration reform efforts draw attention, another facet of immigrant detention is thrown into light: that of immigrants with legal status who are detained for months or years while awaiting their hearings.
The ACLU reported that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has 34,000 immigrants in custody, at a cost of $2 billion a year to taxpayers. Most are not dangerous and don’t need to be detained while awaiting their immigration hearings. Many are actually of legal status, as long-term green card holders.
Reuters reported that it costs $119 a day to detain an immigrant.
According to Business Insider, if immigrants were required to wear electronic monitors while their cases were under review it would cost only $17.78, and they could remain with their families.
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Business Insider followed the case of Dave Pierre, who moved from Antigua with his parents as a toddler. After doing time for drug charges, the latest of which was in 1996, Pierre was detained for three years by immigration authorities, at a cost of $136,000 to U.S. taxpayers.
“They treat us like county inmates,” Pierre told Business Insider when he was still in prison. “We are mixed with people doing 20 years for rape, sexual abuse.”
When he was finally released, Pierre had no idea why.
“Immigration called me, they told me I’m leaving,” said Pierre. “Just like that ... with no why, ifs, and or buts.”
He was told to report back to Virginia’s ICE office in May 2014, when it’s possible he’ll be deported to Antigua, a country that is only home to him on paper.
“I just wanted a second chance at life, you know?” Pierre said. “I hadn’t had a criminal conviction in years. It’s not fair.”
Philly.com reported on the 5 percent of detained immigrants with mental illness, including Tiombe Kimana Carlos, who suffered from schizophrenia and killed herself while in custody while awaiting deportation to Antigua and Barbuda, from where she emigrated with her parents at the age of 4.
The ACLU cited a Syracuse University study analyzing data from the nonpartisan Transactional Records Clearinghouse (TRAC) that concluded that immigrants whose immigration cases are decided in favor of them staying in the country actually stay in jail longer than those who end up being deported. The average detention stay for immigrants who are legally allowed to remain in the U.S. was calculated at 334 days, as opposed to 27 for immigrants who are made to leave the country.