Congress’s Illegal-Immigration Detention Quota Costs $2 Billion a Year


William Selway and Margaret Newkirk
Bloomberg Businessweek
Sept. 27, 2013

Noemi Romero, 21, was arrested on a charge of criminal impersonation while working at a Phoenix grocery store in January. Because she was in the country illegally, she’d used someone else’s name to get the job. Romero came to the U.S. at age 3 and says she had hoped to earn enough to pay the $465 application fee for amnesty under a 2012 Obama administration program for people brought to the U.S. as children.

She ended up in a 1,596-bed immigrant detention center in Eloy, Ariz., run by Corrections Corp. of America (CXW) under a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), part of the Department of Homeland Security. Romero spent almost two months in the prison while ICE initiated deportation proceedings against her. She has been released and says the case against her has been dropped.

Despite the Obama administration’s policy of leniency toward some immigrants, a decline in illegal border crossings, and Republican pressure to cut the federal budget, ICE is locking up and deporting more illegal immigrants than ever before—and spending more money doing it. The reason can be traced to a particular obsession of the late Senator Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat, who once called an immigration reform measure “sheer lunacy.” He inserted into Homeland Security’s 2009 spending bill a requirement that ICE keep a minimum of 33,400 illegal immigrants locked up at all times.

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