Study Examines Role of County Jails in Immigration Detention

A new study demonstrates how county jails across the United States have become primary holding centers for undocumented immigrants awaiting deportation proceedings.

“More so than federally operated facilities, county jails, along with facilities operated by for-profit companies, have come to hold for ICE the lion’s share of immigrant detainees facing removal proceedings,” write Emily Ryo of the University of Southern California and Ian Peacock of the University of California, Los Angeles in their new report.

“In 2017, for instance, Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, California, operated by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, held about 500 individuals for ICE and received US$118 per person per day, bringing in a total of $59,000 a day.”

That was before the county announced in 2019 that it would end its agreements with ICE allowing iimmigrant detainees to be held in county jails. In January of 2018, Senate Bill 29 took effect, barring California municipalities from entering into contracts with the federal government for immigration detention.

For years, however, this practice has been growing throughout other parts of the United States. Ryo and Peacock have tried to pinpoint the cause of increased use of county facilities for civil confinement. That increase, they say, can be traced back before the Trump administration. There were 128 counties holding immigrant detainees in 1983. That number jumped to 727 counties in 2013, with large concentrations in the southern United States.

“The largest growth was also concentrated in small to midsized counties outside of urban metropolitan areas. By 2013, four of every 10 counties holding immigrants for ICE were rural,” according to the researchers. Most of the counties were Republican-leaning.

Read a summary of the study‘s findings here.