Millions of immigrants rejoiced at the recently announced changes in the country's immigration policy. President Barack Obama's executive action has created a form of deferred deportation relief for additional childhood arrivals as well as the parents and spouses of citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs). With more than 30,000 immigrants detained on a daily basis, this newly created deferred status may offer many of them a chance at freedom.
However, just because someone should be released from a detention center does not necessarily mean that they will be. A recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced that of more than 1,600 Los Angeles-area immigrants detained for more than six months, almost 70 percent were eligible for release on bond after they had their hearing in front of an immigration judge.
An earlier court order required bond hearings after six months for immigrants challenging deportation orders. Between October 2012 and April 2014, about 1,680 bond hearings were held for immigrants to determine whether they could be released on bond. An immigration judge found that 1,166 of them were eligible for release. These were individuals who the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials deemed ineligible for bond.
According to ICE, the agency uses detention, “only when legally appropriate and when suitable alternatives are not available, including instances where the person is believed to pose a potential threat to public safety.” However, this appears to contradict the findings of immigration judges who found that a vast majority of those in detention, for over six months, were deemed suitable for release.
According to ACLU staff attorney Michael Kaufman, “last fiscal year 2014, the government spent $2 billion on detaining immigrants in the U.S. Alternatively if the government employs what is known as ‘alternatives to detention,' that can be as low as $14 and below a day. So those are federal government savings and taxpayer savings that are realized.”
Now everyone would be so happy with the cost savings. Eloy, Arizona is home to a detention center with over 1,500 beds, costing taxpayers over $120 per day per detainee. That payment goes to the private for-profit company managing the facility, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). CCA also operates the detention center in Florence, and other immigration detention facilities across the country. While immigration advocates argue these high detention numbers and high costs are unnecessary, alternatives to detention would directly eat into CCA's profits.
Meanwhile, in Arizona's two immigration detention facilities in Eloy and Florence, thousands wait to see whether they will be eligible for deferred status as either a childhood arrival under DACA, or parent or spouse of a U.S. citizen or LPR. Additionally, others who do not fall within this deferred action criteria, may now fall under low priority detention and removal status after the executive action policy changes. If they are not considered threats to national security, criminal offenders, or recent border crossers, there is a chance they could soon be released so that immigration officials can focus their energies on apprehending high priority individuals.