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The Biden Administration Has Increased the Number of People in ICE Jails by 50% Since Taking Office

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Posted: May. 26, 2021

For Immediate Release
May 26, 2021

Arianna Rosales, National Immigration Project,

Washington, DC  Recently released data from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) shows that the Biden Administration has increased by 50% the number of people in immigration detention since coming into office. That number skyrocketed from 14,715 people on January 15 to 22,140 as of May 21. The president has repeatedly promised to bring humanity to the United States immigration system. However, the administration is moving in the opposite direction, increasing ICE's unnecessary and harmful reliance on incarceration for immigration processing.

The We Are Home campaign and partners are expressing growing alarm in response to the dramatic increase in detention.

Sirine Shebaya, Executive Director, National Immigration Project:
"It is alarming and unacceptable that the Biden administration is increasing the number of people in immigration detention. Incarcerating people while they go through the immigration process is inherently inhumane and systematically deprives thousands of people of their liberty each day. People navigating their immigration cases should be able to do so alongside their families and communities — not behind bars in cages. The Biden administration must take immediate steps to end this dangerous system, terminate the Trump-era Title 42, and create a fair and humane immigration system that upholds dignity for all people."

Silky Shah, Executive Director, Detention Watch Network:
"On the heels of DHS announcing the end of contracts at two inhumane detention centers, the news that the number of people in ICE detention has risen by 50 percent since President Biden took office is deeply concerning. The Biden administration appears to be operating as its predecessors and locking up people seeking asylum at extreme rates. Immigrant lives are in jeopardy anytime they are in ICE custody. People seeking asylum often have strong community ties with loved ones waiting to welcome them to the United States and should be able to navigate their immigration case in community — not behind bars in immigration detention."

Heidi Altman, Director of Policy, National Immigrant Justice Center:
"Recently I spoke with the close family friend of a young man who ICE has detained for nearly three years. She was nearly at a loss for words trying to understand how this young man could be taken from his family and community for so long, with little process and seemingly no access to justice. It was apparent to her and it should be apparent to us all that the United States' immigration detention system is shameful and abusive. The Administration must begin the work of dismantling, not expanding, this monstrous system."

Luba Corté s, Immigrant Defense Coordinator, Make The Road New York:
"It is deeply concerning that despite the Biden administration's promise to move away from the detention of immigrants, the detention of our people continues to grow. The senseless enforcement and detention devastates communities and puts immigrants at grave risk. We have witnessed the inhumane and unhealthy conditions in detention centers that pose a threat to the well-being of those detained, especially during a pandemic. We call on the Biden administration to immediately end Title 42, push forward to restore a fair asylum process, and defund agencies like ICE that terrorized our communities and put immigrants in cages."

Human rights abuses are endemic to ICE detention, prolonged stays are common, and those who survive being in ICE custody bear life-long scars.

On February 18, We Are Home sent a letter with recommendations to the Administration for urgent reforms to the enforcement system. We Are Home calls on the Administration to take immediate steps toward phasing out the use of immigration detention entirely and, in the immediate term, to move to reduce the detained population, including by engaging in a meaningful review of the files of those detained and terminating private prison and county jail contracts.


The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG) is a national non-profit organization that provides technical assistance and support to community-based immigrant organizations, legal practitioners, and all advocates seeking and working to advance the rights of noncitizens. NIPNLG utilizes impact litigation, advocacy, and public education to pursue its mission. Learn more at Follow NIPNLG on social media: National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild on Facebook, @NIPNLG on Twitter and Instagram.