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[Excerpt] As Congress considers reforming the nation’s immigration system, the detention of noncitizens in the United States will likely be an issue. Under the law, there is broad authority to detain aliens while awaiting a determination of whether the noncitizen should be removed from the United States. The law also mandates that certain categories of aliens are subject to mandatory detention (i.e., the aliens must be detained). Aliens subject to mandatory detention include those arriving without documentation or with fraudulent documentation, those who are inadmissable or deportable on criminal grounds, those who are inadmissable or deportable on national security grounds, those certified as terrorist suspects, and those who have final orders of deportation.

Aliens not subject to mandatory detention may be detained, paroled, or released on bond. The priorities for detention of these aliens are specified in statute and regulations. In FY2008, on an average day, 31,244 noncitizens were in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) custody.

There are many policy issues surrounding detention of aliens. The Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA) increased the number of aliens subject to mandatory detention, and raised concerns about the justness of mandatory detention, especially as it is applied to asylum seekers arriving without proper documentation. Additionally, the increase in the number of mandatory detainees has raised concerns about the amount of detention space available to house DHS detainees. Some contend that decisions on which aliens to release from detention and when to release aliens from detention may be based on the amount of detention space, not on the merits of individual cases.

Another issue is the Attorney General’s role in the detention of noncitizens. The creation of DHS moved the administration of detention of noncitizens from the Department of Justice’s Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to DHS’s Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Nonetheless, it can be argued that the language in the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-296; HSA) has left the Attorney General with concurrent authority over immigration law, including the authority to arrest, detain, and release aliens.

The 108th Congress passed P.L. 108-458, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, directing the Secretary of DHS to increase the amount of detention bed space by not less than 8,000 beds for each year, FY2006 through FY2010. Although Congress increased the bed space between FY2006 and FY2010, the number of beds has only increased by approximately 12,000.

In the 111th Congress, bills have been introduced covering a range of provisions and perspectives concerning the detention of noncitizens. Several bills—including S. 1505, H.R. 994, H.R. 2406, and H.R. 3308—would mandate that DHS increase the amount of detention space. In addition, other bills (e.g., H.R. 1215 and S. 1594) would codify certain policies at detention facilities, such as access to telephones and medical care, and expand the alternatives to detention program. Other bills, such as H.R. 264, would eliminate the mandatory detention of asylum seekers in expedited removal. This report will be updated as legislative action occurs.


Suggested Citation
Haddal, C. C. & Siskin, A. (2010). Immigration-related detention: Current legislative issues. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.