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Will immigration reform address the problem of detention?

It's a terrifying prospect for many immigrants: detention and deportation. It's also a somewhat arbitrary and ever-changing scenario that keeps immigrants always in uncertainty. While Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) still has not set any real standards for detention, this virtual lack of rules regarding why and who gets detained does not extend to how many people get detained.

The current detention system runs on a quota system requiring a minimum of 34,000 people to be detained daily. Because of the quota mandated by the Congressional Appropriations committee each year, undocumented immigrants could find themselves detained even if immigration reform passes. In only a few weeks, the Obama administration will have deported two million people from the United States.

Detention is not only a political issue; it has become a profitable business. Private prison companies operate about half of the detention facilities. Lobbyists secure government contracts to ramp up profits for prison corporations, and county jails bolster their budgets with money earned through keeping detainees.

The recent government shutdown didn't help when programs offering legal orientation for immigrants were furloughed. Making matters worse is that detainees don't have access to legal counsel, so a significant majority are forced to represent themselves at their hearings.

Detentions negatively impact communities, tearing apart families and hurting local economies when workers are lost. When the chief support of a family is detained, children are often forced to go into foster care. Many immigrants have died in detention, often from preventable or easily treatable conditions, but often detainees are denied the most basic necessities, such as fresh air, light, sufficient food and hygiene.

Detention comes at a significant expense to taxpayers, to the tune of over $2 billion during fiscal year 2012. The human cost is impossible to calculate. The number of undocumented immigrants in detention has grown to over 400,000 during the current administration.

No one should have to live this way. Immigrants who seek a better life should be treated humanely, not live in constant fear of indefinite detention and deportation. Hopefully, there will soon be immigration reform legislation passed, and these problems will be resolved. Legal professionals are here to offer assistance in deportation defense cases for those in South Carolina and across the country.

Source:, "Immigration reform could still leave thousands in detention" Silky Shah, Oct. 25, 2013

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