December 2, 2009

VI. New Data on Frequency and Patterns of Detainee Transfers

 

In recent years, Human Rights Watch has received numerous anecdotal accounts from immigration attorneys across the country alleging that ICE was transferring immigrant detainees with increasing frequency. However, there were no publicly available data against which we could check these claims. Therefore, in February 2008 we submitted a request to ICE under the Freedom of Information Act seeking detailed information about the agency’s transfer practices since 1998. In September 2008 we received a response.[63] While the agency did not disclose much of the information we had requested, what it did disclose allowed us to analyze quantitatively what we had heard about anecdotally for years.

Trends in the Frequencies and Types of Detainee Transfer

The data reveal that between 1999 and 2008, ICE made 1,397,339 transfers of immigrants between detention facilities. Over those 10 years, the use of transfers has been on the rise, as Table 1 and Figure A show. In 2007, 261,941 transfers occurred, more than doubling the number of transfers (122,783) that occurred just four years earlier in 2003. Since the data produced by ICE for Human Rights Watch record each transfer movement but are not linked to individual detainees, and since our qualitative research has shown that some individual detainees are transferred multiple times, the number of detainees who have experienced transfer is less than the total number of transfer movements.

Figure A: Number of Transfers by Fiscal Year

Source: See Table 1, above.

*Note: Estimate based on transfers continuing at the same volume for all of fiscal 2008 as was observed until April (179,785). This estimate was calculated using a conservative straight-line projection, as opposed to accounting for any exponential growth in transfers.                  

               

During the 10 years for which we obtained data, the 20 nationalities most often transferred are shown in Table 2, below. For any given year between 1999 and 2008, these nationalities tended to be the most frequently transferred. Table 3 shows the proportional representation for each of the top 10 nationalities across the 10 years studied.

Table 3: Trends in Nationality of Transferred Detainees, 1999-2008

Nationality

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

Mexico    

41%

41%

38%

41%

39%

36%

35%

36%

36%

40%

Guatemala  

6%

7%

6%

8%

9%

10%

13%

14%

14%

14%

Honduras  

7%

7%

7%

7%

9%

8%

13%

15%

14%

12%

El Salvador   

8%

9%

8%

7%

8%

8%

9%

12%

15%

12%

Dominican Republic 

3%

3%

3%

3%

3%

3%

3%

2%

2%

2%

China

5%

5%

4%

4%

2%

3%

2%

2%

1%

1%

Cuba    

5%

4%

5%

4%

3%

3%

1%

1%

1%

1%

Brazil    

0%

0%

1%

1%

2%

5%

5%

1%

2%

1%

Jamaica  

3%

2%

2%

2%

2%

2%

1%

1%

1%

1%

Colombia  

1%

1%

3%

2%

2%

2%

1%

1%

1%

1%

Source: See Table 1, above.

We were interested in whether particular nationalities were transferred more or less frequently than their proportion of the detained population would suggest. As illustrated by Table 4, during 2008, nationals from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras made up larger proportions of the transferred detainee population than their proportional time spent in detention would indicate. Mexicans had the largest disparity (8 percent) between their percentage of total transfers and percentage of bed days in detention.

Table 4: Nationalities in detention compared with transfers, 2008

Country

Percent of total bed days in detention

Percent of total transfers

Mexico

32%

40%

El Salvador

11%

12%

Guatemala

10%

14%

Honduras

10%

12%

Dominican Republic

3%

2%

China

2%

1%

Brazil

2%

1%

Jamaica

2%

1%

Cuba

< 2%

1%

Colombia

< 2%

1%

Sources: See Table 1; Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics, “Immigration Enforcement Actions: 2008,” July 2009, http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/statistics/publications/enforcement_ar_08.pdf (accessed November 5, 2009), p. 3.

As with nationality, the gender of persons transferred also remained relatively constant between 1999 and 2008. For any given year, female detainees made up between 9 and 11 percent of the persons transferred, averaging 10 percent across the 10 years studied, as shown in Table 5, below.

Table 5: Gender of Transferred Detainees, 1999-2008

Gender

1999-2008

All    

1,397,339

Male    

1,254,698

Female    

142,459

Unknown    

 182

Source: See Table 1, above.

 

Geographic Patterns in Detainee Transfers

To examine the geographic patterns in detainee transfers, records were classified into two groups—those pertaining to detention facilities originating transfers and those pertaining to facilities receiving transfers. Details on the classification process are provided in the methodology section of this report.

Limitations in the information ICE released did not permit analysis of flows of detainees between specific pairs of facilities. This was because while a transfer record showed the detention facility a particular detainee originated from, it did not identify the facility to which he or she was transferred. And because the identity of the detainee was not provided, it was not possible to match up records on the originating and receiving detention facilities for a given transfer. In addition, it is known that a significant portion of transfers take place between facilities in the same state. For these reasons, we cannot assess how many transfers originating in a particular state actually left that state, nor can we assess how many transfers received in a state began from a location outside of that state.

Over the 10 years studied (1999-2008), the following two tables show the states in which detainee transfers originated (Table 6), and the states that received transferred detainees (Table 7). These tables show that there is a great deal of transfer traffic originating in and going to Arizona, California, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Texas. However, Louisiana is far more likely to receive transferred detainees than it is to originate transfers, and California, New Jersey, New York, and Oregon are more likely to originate transfers than they are to receive transferred detainees.

Table 6: States Originating Transfers, 1999-2008

State

Detainee Transfers Originated

Rank

 

State

Detainee Transfers Originated

Rank

TX     

168,106

1

 

OH     

5,114

28

CA     

153,320

2

 

KS     

4,764

29

AZ     

106,416

3

 

NE     

4,622

30

FL     

45,572

4

 

AR     

4,003

31

PA     

26,082

5

 

MN     

3,113

32

NY     

24,224

6

 

NM     

3,007

33

OR     

19,576

7

 

IN     

2,729

34

NJ     

18,503

8

 

WI     

2,667

35

NC     

16,602

9

 

SC     

2,650

36

IL     

13,621

10

 

OK     

2,630

37

LA     

13,031

11

 

RI     

2,505

38

VA     

12,672

12

 

MT     

2,492

39

CO     

11,327

13

 

SD     

2,208

40

TN     

11,321

14

 

NH     

1,793

41

GA     

10,600

15

 

VI     

1,787

42

WA     

10,137

16

 

CT     

1,685

43

MO     

9,810

17

 

ME     

1,546

44

MI     

9,551

18

 

VT     

1,349

45

UT     

9,100

19

 

AK     

1,326

46

PR     

7,578

20

 

WV     

1,249

47

KY     

7,243

21

 

WY     

1,148

48

MD     

6,643

22

 

ND     

1,048

49

MA     

6,523

23

 

MS     

799

50

AL     

6,517

24

 

HI     

539

51

ID     

5,974

25

 

GU     

69

52

NV     

5,626

26

 

DE     

10

53

IA     

5,394

27

 

DC     

5

54

Source: See Table 1, above.

 

Table 7: States Receiving Transfers, 1999-2008

State

Detainee Transfers Received

Rank

 

State

Detainee Transfers Received

Rank

TX     

166,628

1

 

ID     

5,313

28

CA     

99,556

2

 

IA     

5,026

29

LA     

95,114

3

 

NC     

4,175

30

AZ     

85,551

4

 

UT     

3,619

31

PA     

43,598

5

 

OK     

2,974

32

FL     

42,319

6

 

AR     

2,082

33

IL     

29,505

7

 

CT     

2,062

34

GA     

25,929

8

 

RI     

1,869

35

WA     

17,714

9

 

KY     

1,757

36

AL     

16,858

10

 

IN     

951

37

CO     

16,567

11

 

ME     

685

38

VA     

15,317

12

 

MT     

673

39

MI     

14,173

13

 

SD     

531

40

NY     

11,510

14

 

NH     

518

41

NJ     

9,975

15

 

SC     

488

42

NM     

9,925

16

 

ND     

422

43

OR     

9,503

17

 

NV     

413

44

WI     

9,223

18

 

VT     

242

45

MD     

8,570

19

 

MS     

217

46

MA     

8,240

20

 

AK     

136

47

MO     

8,134

21

 

WY     

58

48

PR     

7,722

22

 

GU     

34

49

TN     

7,650

23

 

WV     

31

50

NE     

7,169

24

 

DE     

23

51

MN     

6,979

25

 

HI     

20

52

KS     

6,941

26

 

DC     

16

53

OH     

5,870

27

 

VI     

3

54

Source: See Table 1 above.

Tables 8 and 9 below show that the facility most likely to originate transfers is the Florence Staging Facility in Arizona, while the facility most likely to receive transfers is the Mira Loma Detention Center in California. The tables also show that certain facilities, such as Laredo Contract Detention Facility and Port Isabel SPC in Texas, frequently originate transfers, but are not in the top 20 receiving facilities, while Eloy Federal Contract Facility in Arizona and Pine Prairie Correctional Center in Louisiana frequently receive transfers but are not in the top 20 originating facilities.

Table 8: Top Facilities Originating Transfers, 1999-2008

Facility

Number

Rank

Florence Staging Facility (AZ)

63,288

1

Los Cust Case (CA)*

52,274

2

Laredo Contract Det. Fac. (TX)

46,602

3

Port Isabel SPC (TX)

31,112

4

Harlingen Staging Facility (TX)

27,690

5

Mira Loma Detention Center (CA)

20,823

6

Krome North SPC (FL)

17,210

7

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA)—San Diego (CA)

16,041

8

CCA, Florence Correctional Center (AZ)

14,218

9

El Centro SPC (CA)

13,705

10

Florence SPC (AZ)

13,610

11

Varick Street SPC (NY)

11,991

12

Mecklenburg (NC) County Jail (NC)

10,496

13

San Pedro SPC (CA)

9,346

14

Kern County Jail (Lerdo) (CA)

9,291

15

York County Jail (PA)

8,091

16

El Paso SPC (TX)

7,343

17

Orleans Parish Sheriff (LA)

6,124

18

Tucson INS Hold Room (AZ)

6,106

19

Willacy County Detention Center (TX)

4,767

20

Source: see Table 1, above.

*Note:  While the codebook provided to Human Rights Watch does not clarify what this facility code refers to, and TRAC was unable to clarify through its own research, we hypothesize that it might refer to individuals held in the custody of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

Table 9: Top Facilities Receiving Transfers, 1999-2008

Facility

Number

Rank

Mira Loma Detention Center (CA)

30,987

1

York County Jail (PA)

27,728

2

Eloy Federal Contract Facility (AZ)

27,674

3

Florence Staging Facility (AZ)

26,789

4

Pine Prairie Correctional Center (LA)

26,268

5

Tensas Parish Detention Center (LA)

26,205

6

South Texas Detention Complex (TX)

25,375

7

San Pedro SPC (CA)

24,266

8

Houston Contract Detention Facility (TX)

21,583

9

Willacy County Detention Center (TX)

19,528

10

Oakdale Federal Detention Center (LA)

16,287

11

Florence SPC (AZ)

15,796

12

Denver Contract Detention Facility (CO)

14,202

13

Stewart Detention Center (GA)

13,358

14

Etowah County Jail (AL)

12,106

15

Los Cust Case (CA)*

11,976

16

Port Isabel SPC (TX)

11,014

17

Krome North SPC (FL)

10,868

18

Bradenton Detention Center (FL)

9,401

19

Tri-County Jail (IL)

8,090

20

Source: see Table 1, above.

*Note: For a description of this code, see Table 8, above.

There are also trends in the types of facilities originating and receiving transfers. The majority of detainees are held in numerous state and local jails and prisons that ICE pays to provide bed space under Intergovernmental Service Agreements (IGSAs). Table 10, below, shows that IGSAs originate and receive by far the most transferred detainees. This finding is not surprising because ICE must move detainees out whenever state and local subcontractors need to free up space for persons accused or convicted of crimes, or whenever they decide housing ICE detainees is undesirable for whatever reason.

Since transfers between facilities often occur across large distances, they can have the effect of altering the law applied to a detainee’s case, which is determined by the federal circuit court of appeals with jurisdiction over the facility where the detainee is housed. The following table shows the federal circuits with jurisdiction over the detention centers most likely to originate and receive detainee transfers. As Table 11 shows, facilities within the Ninth Circuit are the most likely to originate transfers, although facilities within the Ninth Circuit also receive a very large number of transferred detainees. Facilities within the Eleventh Circuit are more likely to receive detainees than they are to originate transfers, while facilities within the Fourth, Sixth, and Second Circuits are more likely to originate detainee transfers than they are to receive them.

Table 11 also shows that detention facilities within the Fifth Circuit (a federal circuit known for legal precedent hostile to the rights of immigrants)[64] are most likely to receive transfers, although facilities located in the Fifth Circuit also originate a large number of transfers. While it is impossible to determine if there is a net inflow of transfers to the Fifth Circuit, our interviews tend to indicate that a number of detainees from other jurisdictions end up there. Moreover, the data show a large disparity between transfers received in (95,114) and originating from (13,031) Louisiana. Therefore, while this report does not conclude that there is an intentional ICE policy of transferring detainees to the Fifth Circuit, it appears that for at least one of the three states within the Fifth Circuit’s jurisdiction, there is a significant inflow of detainees from elsewhere.

Transfers can also have a serious impact upon detainees’ access to counsel. As Table 12 shows, in many cases detainees are transferred to circuits with relatively few immigration attorneys. In order to obtain a rough idea of the number of immigration attorneys in a particular circuit, we obtained the number of members of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) by state.[65] Since not all immigration attorneys are members of AILA, and not every member of AILA is a practicing immigration attorney, these numbers can only provide a rough indication of the distribution of immigration attorneys in the various circuits. Table 12 shows that the circuit most likely to receive detainees, the Fifth Circuit, has the worst (highest) detainee/attorney ratios; whereas the circuits least likely to receive detainees—the Second and the DC Circuits—have the best (lowest) detainee/attorney ratios.

Table 12: Transferred Detainee to Immigration Attorney Distributions

Circuit

Rank by Number of Detainee Transfers Received 1999-2008

AILA Members as of August 2009

Transferred Detainee to AILA Member Ratio

5th

1

934

280.47

10th

5

388

103.31

3rd

4

600

89.33

9th

2

2642

82.86

8th

7

436

69.59

11th

3

1283

66.33

7th

6

634

62.59

6th

8

629

46.82

1st

10

516

36.89

4th

9

801

35.68

2nd

11

1507

9.17

DC

12

321

0.05

Sources: see Tables 1 and 10, above. AILA membership totals provided to Human Rights Watch by AILA on August 31, 2009.

Finally, in the course of the 10 years studied, 19,384 transfers occurred originating from and going to detention facilities specifically set up to house juveniles. As Table 13 illustrates, certain juvenile detention facilities experience the bulk of transfer traffic: the largest numbers of juvenile detainees are transferred from and to Hutto[66] and IES in Texas, as well as to and from Southwest Key Juvenile Shelter in Arizona, and Barrett Honor Camp in California.

Table 13: Transfer Activity at Juvenile Detention Centers 1999-2008

Facility

State

Total Transfer Activity

Hutto CCA

 TX

2,722

International Emergency Shelter (IES)

 TX

2,242

Southwest Key Juvenile Facility

 AZ

1,975

Barrett Honor Camp

 CA

1,955

Juvenile Facility (Chicago)

 IL  

1,374

Southwest Key Juvenile Facility

 TX

1,046

Boystown

 FL    

932

Catholic Charities (Houston)

 TX

569

Casa San Juan

 CA

540

Berks County Family Shelter

 PA

523

Southwest Key Juvenile Facility

 CA

500

Gila County Juvenile Detention Center

 AZ

419

Berks County Juvenile

 PA

400

Southwest Key Juvenile Facility (Houston)

 TX

391

Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall

 CA

385

Liberty City Juvenile Detention Center

 TX

378

Southwest Initiatives Group, LLC

 TX

334

Southwest Youth Village

 IN  

251

Berks County Secured Juvenile

 PA

173

Corpus Christi Facility

 TX

143

Southwest Key Juvenile (San Jose)

 CA

129

Northern Oregon Juvenile Detention

 OR  

125

Alternative House

 TX

118

All     

 

19,358

Source: See table 1, above.

Costs of Transfer

ICE provides no publicly available analysis of the savings or costs associated with transfers. It also does not provide information on the rationales for transfers in particular cases, which might help the agency and others to better understand the savings or costs associated with its practices. For example, although none of the detainees interviewed for this report had been transferred for medical reasons, it is certainly the case that some percentage of transfers are completed in order to provide immigrant detainees with necessary medical care, and that providing such care prevents illness, loss of life, and costly lawsuits. However, there is no way to estimate these savings since the agency does not make public, or even record in a centralized database, the reasons for detainee transfers. Even if one accepts the notion that transfers for medical care provide cost savings to the agency, it is also true that transfers for medical care are not adequately addressing detainee medical needs: ICE’s failure to care for the medical needs of non-citizen detainees (resulting in deaths in several cases) has been the subject of numerous lawsuits, prominent newspaper stories, and congressional action.[67]

 We have no independent way of estimating the costs associated with transfers, although we can assume that in addition to the costs of transporting detainees by plane or bus, ICE incurs additional administrative costs, such as personnel time spent on paperwork or other administrative tasks, costs of additional court time or court delays caused by transfers, costs associated with unnecessary transfers of persons who are found to be eligible for bond and therefore are needlessly detained, or costs associated with duplicative medical screenings or tests.

Without better public information on ICE’s operational budget related to transfers, it is impossible to conclude whether transfers result in net costs or savings for the agency. Nevertheless, our research for this report allows us to conclude that transfers cost certain detainees a great deal in the form of human rights violations. The following sections describe these violations.

 

[63] See Appendix for Human Rights Watch’s original request to ICE and its response.

[64] The Fifth Circuit’s interpretations of immigration law are discussed in more detail in Chapter X. There we point out, for example, that the circuit has ruled that two or more misdemeanor convictions qualify as aggravated felonies, and therefore bar non-citizens from applying for cancellation of removal (see note 165 and accompanying text). The circuit also has one of the lowest rates of remand for asylum claims, a subject that is also discussed in Chapter X.

[65] Email from Jennifer English Lynch, director of Membership, American Immigration Lawyers Association, Washington, DC, to Human Rights Watch, August 31, 2009 (email on file with Human Rights Watch).

[66] We note that ICE announced in August 2009 that it will no longer house detained immigrant families at the Hutto facility, which will presumably reduce the number of juvenile detainees transferred there. Annabelle Garay, “Families Slowly Leaving Texas Facility,” Associated Press, September 9, 2009, http://www.ajc.com/news/nation-world/families-slowly-leaving-texas-134942.html (accessed November 4, 2009).

[67] See, for example, “ACLU Sues U.S. Immigration Officials and For-Profit Corrections Corporation Over Dangerous and Inhumane Housing of Detainees,” ACLU Press Release, January 24, 2007, http://www.aclu.org/prison/conditions/28127prs20070124.html (accessed November 4, 2009) (describing lawsuit brought by the ACLU for failure to provide adequate medical care in immigration detention) ; “ACLU Sues Over Lack of Medical Treatment at San Diego Detention Facility,” ACLU Press Release, June 13, 2007, http://aclu.org/immigrants/detention/30095res20070613.html (accessed November 4, 2009) (same); Dana Priest and Amy Goldstein, “Careless Detention: System of Neglect,” The Washington Post, May 11, 2008, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/nation/specials/immigration/cwc_d1p1.html (accessed November 4, 2009); “In Custody Deaths,” The New York Times, http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/i/immigration_detention_us/incustody_deaths/index.html (accessed November 4, 2009) (collecting articles published by the Times about immigrant detainee deaths and failure to provide medical care from 2005 to 2009); US House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law, “Hearing on Problems with Immigration Detainee Medical Care,” June 4, 2008 http://judiciary.house.gov/hearings/hear_060408.html (accessed on November 4, 2009).