There has been a rise in the number of arrests of undocumented immigrants over the course of the last few years, and this is at least in part due to a little known congressional directive that has been referred to as the “detention bed mandate.”
The mandate means that Congress has effectively ordered the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency to fill around 34,000 beds across the country’s 250 immigrant detention facilities, leading to thousands of immigrants who have no criminal records being deprived of their liberty for weeks, months and in some cases even years, frequently without being given any chance to contest or appeal against their confinement.
One such case is that of El Salvador immigrant Michael Martinez. Martinez made the mistake of visiting his local police department in order to start the citizenship application process, only to instead find himself being placed under arrest and taken to the Henderson, Nevada detention facility run by the Department of Homeland Security, where he still remains. “I work and I pay taxes,” Martinez told the Las Vegas Sun. “I care for my family. Then, when I start to try to legalize my status, I’m detained. So I’m not working, and meanwhile the government is paying to lock me up. Now, if they deport me, who will take care of my wife and son, who are U.S. citizens? They’ll be public charges. It makes no sense.”
Legal professionals and advocates for immigrant’s rights have widely criticized the policy, and even the Homeland Security Department’s former secretary Janet Napolitano has described the mandate as being “artificial.”