Most Immigrants In Detention Centers Have No Criminal Record

March 16, 2009 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

An analysis by The Associated Press reveals that the United States has vastly expanded its immigrant detention system over the last ten years, but most of the immigrants being held have no criminal record and many are unlikely to leave the country anytime soon.

Data from the official Immigration and Customs Enforcement database, obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act, showed that exactly 32,000 immigrants were being detained in immigration detention facilities on the evening of Jan. 25.  Of these, almost 19,000 had no criminal conviction — not even for illegal entry or low-level crimes like loitering or trespassing. More than 400 of these immigrants had been imprisoned for more than a year. A dozen had been held for three years or more. And one man from China, despite no criminal record whatsoever, had been locked up for more than five years.

Although the law requires that ICE either deport or release immigrants within six months of their case being decided, The Associated Press reports that ICE routinely misses this Supreme Court-mandated deadline.

The report appears to confirm what we’ve written before — that some local law enforcement agencies are using their broad powers under a federal program to sweep up undocumented immigrants and imprison them, even if they’ve committed no crimes.