The report points out that the detention system has become an enormous funnel for the crushingly overburdened, underfunded immigration courts, which receive a meager $300 million from Congress each year, one-sixtieth of what ICE and Customs and Border Protection get. By the end of March, nearly 442,000 cases were pending before immigration judges, with an average case waiting 599 days to be heard, and delays in some courts of more than two years. This is not efficiency or due process.
Ending mass detention would not mean allowing unauthorized immigrants to disappear. Supervised or conditional release, ankle bracelets and other monitoring technologies, plus community-based support with intensive case management, can work together to make the system more humane. But neither Congress nor the Homeland Security Department has embraced these approaches, which would be far cheaper than locking people up.
No one can expect such reforms soon from Congress, which by law requires the Department of Homeland Security to maintain, at all times, 34,000 detention beds, no matter the need. But the problem has to be acknowledged: the inhumanity and wasted expense of imprisoning people who could be working and providing for their families. The American immigration system should reflect our values. The detention system does not do that.