ICE the Largest Jailor in the Nation

by Published on

The United States has the dubious distinction of leading the world in the number of incarcerated citizens. Now we may have also garnered another disturbing distinction: leading the world in the number of incarcerated non-citizens.The Syracuse University-based Transactional Records Clearing House which tracks immigration trends released a report today with some amazing figures. The United States has 369,483 immigrants in detention facilities across the nation as of FY 2009, according to ICE statistics. TRAC has broken it down so that data can be compiled for individual facilities.  A good portion of these folks are being held in Texas. According to TRAC, the number of detainees has doubled since 1999 and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has nowhere to put the rising number of detainees so they are shuffling them from facility to facility. Back in October, Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, announced that her agency will try and apply consistent management and oversight to the crazy quilt of detainee facilities run by private companies and local government entities across the nation.Napolitano’s special advisor Dora Schriro, who had been appointed to oversee the clean up measures quit just months after being appointed. Schriro said she wanted to be closer to family in NYC. Let’s hope that’s all there was to it, and she wasn’t abandoning a sinking ship.With a burgeoning detainee population, increasingly, ICE is sending people longer distances and to more remote locations. Immigrants who were detained in New York state, for instance, are finding themselves languishing in places like remote West Texas far away from their families and legal representation.I don’t see the number of detainees declining anytime soon. Rural and impoverished counties are becoming too dependent on detention facilities to boost their local economies. Plus they are on the hook for the millions it cost to build   the detention facilities. There is now a perverse push to detain more people to feed the number of jails popping up around the country. If you ever want to see the scaly green dollar-driven underbelly of the private detention facility racket check out a prospectus for potential stock investors provided by some of the private jail corps like Geo Group. They tout their increasing market share and if I remember correctly they refer to the prisoners as their  clients…truly creepy stuff.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. She has a master’s in public health from Texas A&M University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.