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The immigration detention bed quota refers to language in congressional appropriations law that requires U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to maintain 34,000 immigration detention beds on a daily basis. This quota has steadily increased since its establishment in 2009. No other law enforcement agency is subject to a statutory quota on the number of individuals to hold in detention.

The bed quota prevents ICE from exercising discretion and expanding more efficient alternatives to detention (ATD) that would allow individuals who pose no risk to public safety to be released back to their families while awaiting immigration court hearings. ATDs cost as little as 70 cents to $17 per day—a fraction of the $159 ICE spends to detain one person per day.   Over the course of a year, immigration detention costs over $2 billion, approximately $5.5 million each day.  Taxpayers could save $1.44 billion each year—a nearly 80 percent decrease in detention spending—if ATDs were more widely used.  Alternatives to detention have received bipartisan support for their cost‐savings from groups such as the Council on Foreign Relations’ Independent Task Force on U.S. Immigration Policy, the Heritage Foundation, the Pretrial Justice Institute, the Texas Public Policy Foundation (home to Right on Crime), the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the National Conference of Chief Justices.

To learn more about the history of the bed quota and bipartisan efforts to eliminate it, read NIJC's detailed timeline.

Recommendations

  • Eliminate the detention bed quota and allow ICE to make detention decisions based on an individual’s situation rather than on an arbitrary quota.
  • Expand use of alternatives to detention (ATDs) that are community based and appropriately designed for vulnerable populations. 
  • Ensure access to counsel so detainees can efficiently navigate the immigration system, decreasing time in detention