As part of a series of executive orders aimed at attacking immigrants and immigrant communities, President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday that going forward, his administration will order the mandatory detention of all those apprehended or arrested by immigration enforcement officials.
The U.S. already spends more on all immigration enforcement — nearly $20 billion a year — than on all other federal law enforcement combined, and currently detains more immigrants each day — more than 42,000 — than ever before. Summary removals and mandatory detention are at an all-time high. And the focus on removals has come at the cost of due process, placing vulnerable populations like asylum seekers at risk. The number of asylum seekers held in detention increased threefold from 2010 to 2014.
Making detention mandatory will only exacerbate these issues.
It will also be expensive. The mandatory detention of all immigrants apprehended or arrested will cost the U.S. an additional $902 million each year, for a total of $9 billion in new federal spending over the next decade.
Here’s how we got that estimate: In FY 2016, DHS personnel apprehended and arrested 530,250 people, and booked 352,882 people into detention. Under Trump’s new policy, the additional 177,368 people who were not booked into detention last year would now be subject to mandatory detention.
Given that it costs, on average, $164 per day to detain someone in immigrant detention, and that the average number of days people spend in immigrant detention is 31, that means that the total new costs per year (177,368 x $164 x 31) comes out to $901,738, 912 per year.
And these estimates are by their nature conservative. They don’t take into account potentially lengthened stays in detention under this executive order, nor any costs to DHS for rapidly building or acquiring more detention facilities and bed space to meet new needs.
Let’s put that in perspective. For $9 billion, the U.S. could instead:
- Build over 550 new elementary schools, at $45 million each.
- Hire over 16,500 new kindergarten and elementary school teachers, and pay their salaries for the next decade.
- Pay in-state tuition costs for just over 93,000 students at public universities, each year for the next decade.
Focusing detention resources on all immigrants apprehended by immigration enforcement officials, rather than targeting resources on priorities — such as threats to public safety — expands unnecessary detention, and increases the share of detention beds that will be used to hold families, elderly people, pregnant women, LGBT people, and asylum seekers. These individuals are already at heightened risk in immigrant detention, and today’s actions will only make those risks more acute. Both from a moral and economic lens, Trump’s order is too costly for the nation.
Philip E. Wolgin is the Managing Director for Immigration Policy at the Center for Americans Progress (CAP). Sharita Gruberg is the Associate Director for the LGBT Research and Communications Project at CAP. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent site housed at CAP.