Why We Should Repeal Mandatory Detention of Immigrants

In 2011, Kadir van Lohuizen, a photojournalist, gained permission to photograph inside a U.S. immigration detention center and on an airport tarmac while government agents prepared people for deportation. The photographs above offer a rare look at an inhumane detention system.

A reduction in immigration detention needs to be a vital component of any comprehensive immigration reform. As our country debates immigration policy, it’s time to repeal mandatory detention and restore judges’ power to review individual cases.

The U.S. immigration detention system has grown exponentially from about 70,000 people detained a year in 1996 to some 400,000 people in 2012. A primary reason for this expansion is a series of 1996 laws that expanded “mandatory detention.”

These laws force authorities to detain immigrants without a hearing. That includes the sick, elderly, pregnant women, green card holders, asylum seekers, undocumented immigrants, and legal residents who’ve resided in the U.S. for years. In a dramatic departure from our American values of due process and fairness, the ability of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to release immigrants and judges’ power to review individual cases were removed.

As a result, many people are held unnecessarily. For example, Detention Watch Network member Nazry Mustakim, a 31-year-old green-card holder from Singapore, was held at GEO Group’s South Texas Detention Center for 10 months in 2011–2012. Nazry moved with his family to the United States from his native Singapore in 1992 and was living in the United States legally when he was convicted in 2007 of felony drug possession. In a plea bargain deal with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years probation.

Nazry said he was never told that accepting the plea deal would compromise his residency in the United States. Later Nazry married Hope, and just a few months after they married, ICE came to their door and detained Nazry. Nazry was held for 10 months at the South Texas Detention Center, almost 250 miles from Waco, where Hope and Nazry live. After significant organizing and media attention, Nazry was released by ICE in February 2012 and his green card was reinstated.

Conditions in which people like Nazry are held are punitive and inhumane. A recent set of reports compiled by Detention Watch Network members highlighted conditions in 10 jails where immigrants are held that exemplify the egregious problems inherent throughout the immigration detention system.

We found immigrants in detention wait weeks or months for medical care; have inadequate, and in some cases absolutely no, outdoor recreation time or access to sunlight or fresh air; are offered inadequate and nutritionally lacking food; and are subjected to the use of solitary confinement as punishment. Their families suffer extraordinary difficulties trying to visit their imprisoned relatives.

In some facilities, families drive hundreds of miles to visit their loved ones, only to be forced to “visit” with them via video link in a separate building—not because they pose a risk, but because the facility does not want to incur additional costs for in-person visits. The remote location of many facilities also interferes dangerously with people’s ability to get legal help to fight their cases. They often have no access to a lawyer.

In the words of one immigrant detained at Baker County Jail in Florida, “We are like dogs. We can’t see the sun or the sky. Actually, even a dog gets to go outside.”

It should come as no surprise that immigration detention has helped fuel the mass incarceration crisis we face today and detaining immigrants has become a billion-dollar industry for private prison companies, like Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group. Prison corporations lobby heavily to secure these government contracts to increase their profits, while county jails benefit by using money earned from detaining immigrants to fill gaps in their shrinking budgets.

In total, Immigration and Customs Enforcement spends over $2 billion a year to detain immigrants. While it costs an average of $164 per day per person to keep someone in detention, community-based supervision programs cost as little as $12 per day per person.

By rejecting mandatory detention, we can cut government spending by returning people to their communities and jobs, so families can stay together and local economies can continue to thrive. It’s time to align our immigration laws with our country’s values, based on the inherent dignity and equal rights of all who reside within our borders.

Learn More:



The mass detention of individuals is a flawed policy with many, many drawbacks. It is time to reevaluate this practice and estblish a human system to address the realites that exist in our country.

I agree with you on that...

I think they should let all families be together. There is a better way to do things then to criminalize human beings.

the present system of detention and incarceration of natives seeking survival in their homeland is criminal, inhuman and reflective of a monstrous way to profit from misery and torture.


This is just wrong. These are not hardened criminals. They are men, women and children who need respect, care and honesty. This is another shame added to our innate greed as a nation.

Detention of immigrants is outrageous. US citizens forget that they or their ancestors all were immigrants at one time or another. All immigration laws should be repealed, and there should be free immigration. Whatever happened to the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Send these, the tempest tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door". Certainly, that now has become irony.

Detention of immigrants is outrageous. US citizens forget that they or their ancestors all were immigrants at one time or another. All immigration laws should be repealed, and there should be free immigration. Whatever happened to the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Send these, the tempest tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door". Certainly, that now has become irony.

Jesus, thank you for sending the miracle of love to every citizen in the universe.

OMG, this sounds like a concentration camp.

Please i need to learn more about how prisons are managed privately in the U S and the role of the state.I believe that these prisons can be properly managed by the private companies without exploiting the citizens as well as the inmate.

Ssonko Stephen Lule

How can people, responsible enough to raise children, still allow this and many other government crimes ? It is high time for US and EU citizens to take up their democratic responsibility and overthrow the satanic elite.
(US a christian nation ?)

We have to change the way we think to make the world a better place! Detention of immigrants is tragic when corporate profitability is considered. Immigrants are people who deserve dignity; and fair, equitable & humane treatment.

i think if subjecting them to community service within USA is hard enough, they should be deported to their countries of origin

Kindly outline ur plan
and ur needs.

We will help U.


Thank you for your interest.

Two of our top priorities are 1) repealing mandatory detention laws in the U.S. that require that people be detained without the right to have their circumstances reviewed by a judge and 2) eliminating a Congressionally mandated detention bed mandate quota that requires the U.S. government to keep 33,400 beds filled every day regardless of actual government needs.

You can check out the DWN website for further information about how you can get involved: www.detentionwatchnetwork.org


Didn't know being a criminal would affect citizenship? Anyone that stupid doesn't need to be allowed in this country.

The issue at hand is detain and deport humans who want to work and make a better living for themselves and their kids am I the only one who sees this? Is everyone else stupid?


My stepfather is an Iranian Immigrant from the fall of the Shaw Government in 1979. He's been a saint to my family, which is mainly Irish Descent. I trust and revere this man more than my biological father. He came here legally and has been illegally profiled several times. I had neighbors in California that came here legally from Mexico 50 years ago. This mandatory detention thing has got to go. If it were my stepfather, I'd be rounding up my family and we'd be suing the crap out of those holding him. His health is far from ideal, and I'm very protective of him. As conservative as I am, I believe in equality across the board. We're in need of reform, and quickly.

Well 8 yars ago I personally lived 3 months of my life detained and deported out of this country for a mistake on the system mmm more likely a """ somone mistake""" I lived amd share the lives of 100's of inmates I heard so many things fr different cities and jail's that honestly its true in some places the imigrants are mix with regular criminals and thats not right its not right to keep childreen also on the detention centers, its not right to separate families and unfurtunaly ICE dont see the damage cause to the inmmigrants childreen they dont realize some people that were detained with me send all their money to their familes to feed kids and provide a sade place to live while they were living in a life they dont deserve here. Thanks to God Im a Us citizen now but every time I see or listen what people is going trough I know I lived it and feel it ... And its true YOU DONT KNOW ANYTHING UNTIL U LIVE IT YOURSELF.

I really liked your argumentation in this article, as not only detention is inhuman and violating dignity and rights of persons, but also very costly."While it costs an average of $164 per day per person to keep someone in detention, community-based supervision programs cost as little as $12 per day per person." I think it is the same as with closure of big mental 'health' institutions and changing them to community based living.. as we also are social beings and have right to live in community, not within institutions.. especially without a criminal charge!

In Bulgaria, we have a similar place. What a shame!

I don't understand the outrage here. These are in fact criminals, and the conditions look better than many of the jail facilities in the United States for American citizens.

A few points of clarification:

Immigrants in immigration detention centers are in "civil administrative detention"; they are not in criminal custody, although many of the facilities in fact are jails and private prisons in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rents bed space.

Individuals in detention may be there for a variety of reasons: some are asylum seekers who have come to the U.S. seeking protection from persecution in their home country. Some are undocumented individuals who have come to work in the U.S. or be with family members who have legal status. (Under current U.S. immigration laws it is very difficult to secure a visa or permanent residency to join even close family members.) Some individuals came to the U.S. with a visa or work permit but then overstayed their time or fell out of status. Some individuals in detention are legal permanent residents but because of a past criminal conviction, their status is being reviewed to see if they are still eligible to remain in the U.S. In the case of someone with a past criminal conviction, they have already served their time and are now going through a separate administrative process.

The goal of immigration detention is to ensure that an individual appears for his or her court hearing. They are not in detention for any "punishment".

There are a number of proven "alternatives" to detention that can ensure that a person shows up for their court proceedings while allowing them to remain in the community and with their families. In addition to being more humane and in line with American principles, these alternatives are also much less expensive and could save U.S. taxpayers more than 1 billion dollars a year.

You are right, the American taxpayers should not be supporting these criminals. They should be deported to the freedom of the country they were born in. In the case of your poor pitiful Nazry he would have been executed in Singapore for the crime you morons are willing to give him a free pass for here in the United States.

You are all wrong. Drug convictions Dui's, domestic violence, Americans face jail time. Why should these people be any different. The only time they are detained us when they screw up. ICE doesn't actively drive around looking for them. They usually end up in ICE or Border Patrol's hand on there own. And if you think different you are wrong. Don't hate the messenger.

What is the US government, department of justice,department social, health and department immigration office is doing for the vulnerable immigrants. they don't have humanity and treating people like pigs.

Thank you for bringing this story to the limelight. I was a green card holder and had already applied for my citizenship. However, the immigration lost part of my citizenship application papers and it took them 3 years to notify me they had lost the documents. In the meantime, I was in trouble with the law. I was imprisoned for 21 months, then sent to immigration detention in four different states, California, Yuba County jail, Oklahoma City, Denton County, Haskell Texas. I spent 4 years in immigration detention appealing my deportation order. When Hurricane Katrina came, the flood washed the records in the 5th circuit court and I was deported without hearing my appeal. While in detention, I was assaulted several times for helping immigrants file their legal papers in court, many times I helped many immigrants get out of immigration. Then I complained for inhumane treatment of Mexican immigrants, women who would be issued 2 pads for 8 hours and before you get another pad, you must show the guards your soaked underpants to prove you are still on your period, lack of sleep, freezing rooms, no recreation, no religious rights for Muslims, no access to legal library, outdated legal books, no phone calls, no medication, the list is long. When I documented all these violations, I was assaulted and deported swiftly. I got to my native country with permanent psychological injuries, physical injuries to date I walk with a cane. I was deported 7 years ago. I was a green card holder and had lived in the USA for over 25 years. If you need other information on those who died while in Texas detention center for lack of medical care, write me at [email protected]

A Democratic State indeed!!!!!!!!!

This is as despicable as it is shameful. What can we do as citizens to make our voices heard in protest of such inhuman decisionmaking?

A petition? A letter to our congressman? I whish some guidance was given here.

Thank you!

Thank you for your caring and concern. A letter to your representative would be an important first step. Please go to our website: www.detentionwatchnetwork.org to find other ways you can get involved.

Agreed. It boils down to economics. Prisons have to fill their beds to keep the money rolling in...creating bogus jobs too.

i want to be your partner in cote d ivoire in africa if is it possible

What can be done? How do we make this right? As Americans, we must not accept this!!!

Agreed with above comments. A criminal is a criminal. Period. If you're getting busted reveals you are an illegal immigrant then too bad for you. You should know the laws of the country before you come here tones criminal. Actually the aliens get preferable treatment better than our own inner city criminals. Stop your whining! You're lucky to be here in the first place.

I agree with you .

Don't detain them, deport them!

They are not U.S citizens and should not get U.S. trials or jails. They should be deported right away to the country of their origin!

All of these people are being held unnecessarily. Simply send these illegal aliens back to their country of origin.


These are some powerful images of a critical issue confronting the United States as well as many other countries across the globe that have boosted their detention efforts in recent years. A key question seems to be: what has been gained?

Community based supervision? You must be kidding. Throw them out in their butts! You mamby pamby bleeding hearts make me ill. Yes, we are descendants
of immigrants, but those who did it legally and strived to assimilate.

I am new to this site and am on this site looking for information on a business associate, who is a green card holder and is currently in Immigration custody due to an insurance infraction that was classified as a third degree offense. This classification makes it a deport-able matter. I have read all the comments and am amazed to see how uninformed we all are about the issue of "mandatory detention"and how willing we are to turn over unlimited power to the irresponsible people who govern our society.
It would do us all to read more carefully the comments from"Andrea Black" who writes with much clarity on this issue. Immigrants today are treated by the Government as the new "Niggers" and like the Blacks of slavery days, the Constitution is not for their benefit. Contrary to popular belief you do not have to commit a serious crime to be deported. The condition for deportation is classified as any charge that implies what ICE calls " Moral Turpitude" can get you deported. The unfortunate thing about this classification is that they determine what constitutes "Moral Turpitude". Normally they follow the confusing and unjust classification of the legal system that categorizes crime into degrees ( like first degree, second degree,etc} . This system, to be kind, is asinine in its structure and runs the gamut of stupidity. There is no due process,like the blacks of slavery days, due process is not for non-Americans. It is hypocritical that we talk about lack of due process in Russia and many parts of the Middle East when we fail to practice the same here with foreigners. Like the folly of the bailout of the Big Banks and Wall Street we are making greedy business rich by trading in flesh,the flesh of our foreign brethren and like the vicious "slave traders" of old, we are put chains on innocent people and selling them off to "''Corrections Corporation of America" and other such predators.
Tavis Smiley and Cornell West published a book last year (The Rich and the Rest of us) everyone should buy a copy and see how close the citzens of this country are to been treated just like the foreigners. I must end this article for the subject is too large to be contained in an one comment or even thousands of comments. Learn the truth and you will be up in arms to do away with the evil of "Mandatory Detention".

"And the of the free..."

You know how the treatment can stop? Stop coming here illegally.

Out of all these comments, this is the only logical one I've heard.

All I can say is that for the Land of Immigrants to be treating other humans this way, very ironic! America is the land of the free and this is what is done to show principles of freedom!


Add your voice