Immigration Detention at United States ICE Centers: Facts and Trends

Immigration Detention at United States ICE Centers: Facts and Trends

In recent years, immigration detention in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities has been a topic of debate and controversy. While there has been a decrease in the detainee population in the first few months of 2024, the average daily number still remains high, hovering around 40,000 detainees.

This comes from a report by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access and Information Center (TRAC), which analyzes data provided by ICE.

Stability in detention numbers

TRAC report reveals that detention numbers reflect relative stability after periods of growth and decline earlier in the Biden administration. According to ICE reports, the total number of immigrants detained at any given time has held steady at just under 40,000 since October of last year.

However, it is important to note that between 9,000 and 11,000 of these detainees were arrested by ICE, while the remainder, between 26,000 and 30,000, were arrested by Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Released on Bond and Alternative Detention Programs

As for the population of immigrants released on bond or monitored with electronic devices under ICE’s Alternative Detention Program (ATD), TRAC researchers found that it has held steady at about 190,000 since July of last year. This follows a huge growth recorded early in the Biden administration, which reached nearly 380,000 individuals under this modality.

Characteristics of detainees

TRAC report highlights several key points about the immigrant detainee population in ICE facilities. One is that approximately 67.3% of detainees have no criminal record. Many of them only record or commit minor infractions, including traffic infractions. In addition, most of the detainees are held in detention centers located in the state of Texas.

Arrests made by ICE and CBP

During the month of December 2023, ICE arrested 7,646 individuals, while CBP arrested 13,447 individuals out of the 21,093 individuals arrested by ICE in total. This demonstrates the collaboration and joint work between the two agencies in immigration enforcement.

Detention centers with the largest populations

According to data compiled by TRAC, the South Texas Fam Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, had the highest number of ICE detainees so far in FY 2024, averaging 1,798 detainees per day in January 2024. This reflects the high concentration of detainees in certain facilities.

Parole Programs

Parole programs, such as ICE’s Alternative Detention Program (ATD), offer an alternative to detention for certain immigrants.

According to Ezequiel Hernandez, an immigration law expert, those who are not a deportation priority for the government can enter these programs and be released while awaiting resolution of their immigration cases.

In addition, those who arrived in the U.S. before November 2020 and do not have serious crimes will not be detained.

Lack of legal help for detainees

A troubling aspect is that immigrants deprived of their liberty in ICE jails are not guaranteed legal assistance or help, unless they get pro bono assistance or their family members in the United States hire an attorney to represent them.

This lack of access to legal representation further complicates the situation for detainees, especially those new arrivals who are unfamiliar with the system.

Importance of ICE Public Data

Despite the limitations and lack of reliable validation of the data provided by ICE, the TRAC report highlights the importance of the agency’s regular, congressionally mandated data releases as a source of information for the public.

These data provide an overview of detention numbers, although their limitations need to be kept in mind.


Immigration detention in ICE facilities remains a relevant and controversial issue. While there has been relative stability in detention numbers in recent months, it is critical to address concerns about access to legal representation and to seek alternatives to detention.

Parole programs, such as ICE’s ATD, are one option that provides an alternative to detention while awaiting resolution of immigration cases. However, more work is needed to ensure that the rights of detainees are respected and to improve the system as a whole.