Rising Number of Detained Immigrants and the Lack of Criminal Records

Rising Number of Detained Immigrants and the Lack of Criminal Records

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has seen a significant increase in the number of detained immigrants, most of whom have no criminal records.

The number of undocumented immigrants detained in ICE jails has seen a staggering increase of 45% in the previous calendar year. Interestingly, most of these detainees lack any criminal records, with many only having minor infractions, such as traffic fines.

Key Findings

Based on the latest data from ICE, an eye-opening report from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University reveals the following key facts:

  • ICE had 39,175 detainees as of February 2024.
  • 26,339 of 39,175 (or 67.2% of) detainees held by ICE have no criminal records.
  • Most of the detainees in ICE jails are located in detention centers in Texas.
  • The South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, held the highest number of ICE detainees so far in the fiscal year 2024, with a daily average of 1,845.
  • ICE’s Alternatives to Detention (ATD) programs are currently monitoring 184,601 single individuals and families (updated as of February 24, 2024).
  • The San Francisco area office has the highest number of ATDs.

Legal Challenge for Detainees

Detained immigrants in ICE jails are not guaranteed legal assistance unless they acquire pro-bono assistance or have family members in the U.S. hire a lawyer for them. This poses a significant challenge, especially for newcomers unfamiliar with the system.

Role of ATD

The Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program offers a form of conditional freedom for immigrants. Under this program, individuals who are not a deportation priority for the government can be released to await the resolution of their immigration cases.

Key Features of ATD

The ATD program offers several benefits for immigrants, including:

  • The opportunity to seek legal assistance.
  • The ability to establish community ties.
  • The chance to appear in immigration courts.
  • Additional support to understand the immigration process.

How ATD Works

Reports indicate that ATD program participants are more likely to trust and comply with court obligations if they believe their case is being processed fairly and transparently. Therefore, a clear, flexible, and transparent process for ATD program enrollment and exit is recommended.

Cost of Detention vs. ATD

Detaining immigrants is far more costly than any of the monitoring systems implemented under the ATD. According to ICE’s budget justification, it costs around $157 to detain an adult immigrant for a day. In contrast, the monitoring technologies of ATD cost around $1.13 per day to monitor a single enrollee.


Increasing number of detained immigrants without criminal records raises serious questions about the current immigration system. The ATD program offers a viable alternative to detention, but it requires a fair and transparent process for its successful implementation.