New Data on 637 Detention Facilities Used by ICE in FY 2015
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention system depends on hundreds of jails, prisons, and other facilities largely owned as well as run by others — some by local government agencies and others by private, for-profit companies. Using beds in these facilities that are widely scattered across the country, ICE manages a large complex system with daily flows of individuals both into as well as out of ICE custody. In addition, an even larger number of individuals already in ICE custody are continually being transferred among these facilities.
A total of 325,209 individuals left ICE custody last year, while 39,082 were still detained at the end of FY 2015. The reasons for which individuals were released from ICE custody varied markedly by detention facility. Nationally, the most common reason for leaving ICE custody was because a detainee was being deported; this reason was listed in 55 percent of recorded departures last year. The next largest group were detainees released on bond or on their personal recognizance while their cases were pending. Others were released because their cases had concluded and they had been found to have a lawful right to remain in the country.
According to detailed government records on each individual who entered, left, or remained in ICE custody during fiscal year 2015, the agency used a total of 637 different facilities last year. While many of these 637 detention facilities were concentrated along the southwest border with Mexico, one or more facilities existed in every one of the fifty states, as well as Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands. Some of these were temporary holding rooms, others were designed for long term stays. Some held only a single person on one occasion during the entire year, others had tens of thousands pass through their doors during this same period. For facilities on which daily costs were available in the records released by ICE, per diem rates ranged from as low as $30 per bed for a short-stay (under 72 hours) facility to a high of $168.84 per day, with lower rates for high volume usage.
This report presents an overview of ICE's custody system, and accompanies a series of reports covering each detention facility. The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University developed the database on which these reports are based using the stay-by-stay records from each detention facility that at least one individual entered, left or stayed at during the past year. These detailed records were obtained by TRAC through Freedom of Information Act requests to ICE.
ICE Custody Usage by Facility and Operator Type
Table 1 summarizes the types of facilities ICE relied upon last year. While a total of 325,209 individuals left ICE custody last year, the total number of individuals "booked out" of ICE facilities during FY 2015 is a great deal larger: 699,268. The difference between these two figures represents the number of times individuals were transferred among facilities. All totaled, there were 374,059 recorded transfers among ICE facilities during FY 2015. Thus each detainee experienced, on average, at least one transfer to another facility.
Roughly one-third of these book-outs involved ICE holding or staging facilities — facilities generally designed for short-term stays. About five percent of the book-outs were from specialized facilities for housing juveniles, and one to two percent were a variety of other facilities including medical hospitals.
The remaining book-outs were from ICE Service Processing Centers (15%), privately owned Contract Detention Facilities (15%), and government owned detention facilities (28%) that ICE made use of through intergovernmental service agreements (IGSAs).
The role of private companies in this detention system was not limited to facilities owned by for-profit corporations. ICE as well as other government agencies frequently engage private companies to operate their detention facilities. About half of all book-outs during FY 2015 were from facilities operated by private corporations. Once facilities used as temporary holding or staging facilities were excluded, the proportion rises to almost three out of four (72%) for regular facilities. These figures may underestimate the actual role of private companies since ICE did not release current information on who operated many of the facilities it used under intergovernmental service agreements.
As shown in Table 2, the firms with the largest role based upon the volume of usage (book-outs) last year were The GEO Group, Inc. (15%), Corrections Corporations of America (10%), and the Ahtna Corporation (10%). ICE records identified fourteen different companies involved in the detention business, although most of these played much smaller roles than these three dominant companies.
ICE Custody Usage by State
ICE did not release information on the city or county where an individual was apprehended. However, ICE records did indicate that more than half (55%) had been transferred to its custody from the Border Patrol. In contrast, an ICE detainer had been placed on just over one in ten (11%) before being taken into custody. Very few (0.2%) had been picked up through a 287(g) program by which local law enforcement agents are authorized to help enforce immigration laws through a special agreement with ICE. While TRAC requested further details on how the individuals arrived in ICE custody, the records that the agency released provided few details on how the remaining one third came into its custody.
Records that TRAC obtained tracked individuals from the time they entered until they left ICE custody. Unless released quickly, once in ICE custody people were often transferred to other facilities based in part on the availability of beds or whether they were being prepared for deportation. Because many of the detention facilities ICE uses were located along the southwest border with Mexico, many transfers were to facilities located in these border states.
Table 3 summarizes detention book-outs by the location of facilities that served as transfer points. At the top of the list is Texas, which accounts for more than one out of three transfer facility book-outs (35.9%). This is lower, however, than the Texas facilities' share of the final book-outs; these detention facilities accounted for half (50.4%) of the occasions in which individuals left ICE custody because they were deported or released.
Arizona and New Mexico also served as a release point much more often than as a transfer point to a facility located in a different state. Arizona accounted for 8.7 percent of transfers but 11.8 percent of departures. New Mexico facilities accounted for 1.3 percent of transfers but 4.7 percent of departures.
California facilities, in contrast, were more often used as a transfer facility. While the southern end of the state borders Mexico, much of its territory does not. After Texas, facilities in that state were the second most frequently used as transfer points accounting for 18.6 percent of all transfer book-outs, but only 10.6 percent of those in which individuals left ICE custody.
As shown in Table 3, most states followed the California pattern, in which facilities more often served as transfer points rather than as the final destination before a person left ICE custody.
Facility by Facility Details
TRAC has compiled detailed reports on each of the 637 detention facilities that ICE used last year, covering each facility's use as a transfer point and as a final destination. Each report provides a wealth of details on when and where individuals first entered ICE custody, their length of stay at the facility, and the reasons they left ICE custody from that facility. In addition, a customizable listing provides the names of each facility and how many individuals were detained there last year, and provides the means to compare facilities of different types and in particular states. When per diem rates charged at the facility were released by ICE, these daily rates that ICE paid are also given.
The sections that follow present highlights on the facilities that saw the most individuals during fiscal year 2015.
Individuals Transferred — Top 25 Facilities
Based on their use as transfer points, the top 25 facilities that ICE most frequently used are shown in Table 4. Note that the number of book-outs of 374,059 is larger than the number of individuals transferred (324,212) because some individuals passed through the same facility more than once during their custody period.
The Port Isabel Service Processing Center in Los Fresnos, Texas, was by far the busiest facility. It alone handled more than one out of every ten transfers. The Florence Staging Facility in Florence, Arizona was second, followed by the Harlingen Hold Room in Harlingen, Texas.
Texas was the location for 11 out of the top 25 transfer facilities. It was followed by California with five and Georgia with three. Arizona and Louisiana each had two, followed by Illinois and Florida with one each. Note that transfers can occur at the beginning as well as the end of the detainee's stay. The latter often occurs when the individual is being deported. Thus a state in which one or more large detention facilities are located may rank high because so many individuals are transferred from their facilities to departure points when they are being deported.
Individuals Leaving ICE Custody — Top 25 Facilities
Based on the number of individuals who left ICE custody during the past year, the top 25 facilities that ICE used are shown in Table 5. A total of 14 out of the 25 were located in Texas, while fully 21 out of the 25 were located in the four states along the country's southwest border with Mexico. Arizona had four, California two, and New Mexico one. The remaining four were in Louisiana (2), Georgia (1) and Pennsylvania (1).
Two of the top three facilities — the Port Isabel Service Processing Center and the Harlingen Hold Room — are Texas facilities that were first and third, respectively, on the list of the top transfer facilities. The Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral, New Mexico was third highest in terms of the number of departures from ICE custody last year.
 There were an additional 4,384 occasions in which ICE records indicated detainees were being transferred, but without any record of them being booked into another facility. On an additional 56 occasions the reason for leaving a facility was not given so it was unclear whether they were or weren't leaving ICE custody. Because the information was incomplete or inaccurate, these 4,440 book-outs are not included in the tables for this report. TRAC found a very substantial number of additional records that indicated the individuals had left ICE custody (to be deported or for other reasons) when other records showed the same individuals had actually been booked into another ICE facility. TRAC treated these occasions as transfers, rather than departures. According to the information ICE provided TRAC, a total of 367,774 individuals were in ICE custody at some point during FY 2015.
 These figures reflect how often a detainee was booked into and out of a facility, and don't reflect how long the individual stayed. More information about length of stay at each facility is contained in TRAC's facility-by-facility reports.
 Of the detainers it prepares, ICE contends that it cannot determine which result in an individual being turned over to its custody. TRAC compiled the figure of 11 percent by counting the number of individuals entering ICE custody on whom ICE had prepared detainers; cases were counted when the date of the detainer was within 365 days of the person's initial entrance into ICE custody.