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Immigration detainee releases: Highlights from the economics of detention



An Orange County Sheriff's deputy keeps a watch over a group of immigration detainees in the medical and dental care area at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010.
An Orange County Sheriff's deputy keeps a watch over a group of immigration detainees in the medical and dental care area at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010.
Jae C. Hong/AP

Housing someone in an immigrant detention center costs, on average,  more than some Americans earn in a day. In 2011, the federal government paid $112.83 per day on average to detain one individual for one day; a more recent non-governmental estimate is even higher.  In fiscal year 2012, more than $2 billion was set aside for immigrant custody costs.

Where do these taxpayer dollars go? The lucrative business of immigrant detention is no secret, with millions each year going to the private prison companies that contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Now that detention is again in the news after ICE released hundreds of detainees this week, attributed to looming federal budget cuts, here are some quick highlights from the economics of immigrant detention:

Lastly, detaining immigrants adds up: Using ICE's lower-end average cost of $112.83 per "man-day," a mere 1,000 detainees costs the agency  nearly $113,000 a day. Over the course of a month - not an unusual length of stay, as some appealing deportation stay much longer - these same 1,000 detainees  cost the agency almost $3.4 million. 

In a statement explaining the release of hundreds of detainees this week,  ICE officials said the agency had "placed these individuals on methods of supervision less costly than detention," or supervised release. For most detainees, this means release on their own recognizance with the expectation they'll show up for hearings and check in with agency officials as required.

Others deemed more of a risk are being monitored via electronic ankle bracelet, according to the agency. As with any security device, these also cost money - but less.

Read more details about ICE detention costs here.

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