ICE: Dumping private immigration detention centers could be costly

Dumping the nation’s privately run immigration detention centers in Georgia and across the nation and replacing them with publicly owned and operated ones could take years and cost billions of dollars in taxpayer money, says a senior official with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Of the 34,000 people now being held in immigration detention centers across the nation, only about 3,700 are being held in five ICE-owned facilities that are overseen by the agency but run by private contractors. Further, ICE works with 46 privately run detention centers. Of those, 11 are privately owned and operated and 35 are publicly owned but operated by private contractors.

“If we came back with a recommendation to build new facilities, it would be very costly to both build and to staff,” Phil Miller, deputy executive associate director of ICE’s enforcement and removal operations, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “And the time for delivery would be lengthy because we would have to identify and train an entire new group of persons to manage these.”

ICE has not comes up with estimates for such costs, Miller said. He added his agency welcomes “the opportunity to have our system examined by outside persons because we think that — in the first instance — we have crafted a unique and very effective system that kind of mirrors our unique and equally effective detention authority.”

On Monday, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced he had directed an advisory council led by William Webster — a former federal judge and a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency — to “review our current policy and practices concerning the use of private immigration detention and evaluate whether this practice should be eliminated.” Johnson said he has asked the panel to consider “all factors concerning ICE’s detention policy and practice, including fiscal considerations.”

The move comes less than two weeks after the U.S. Justice Department said it would phase out its use of private prisons.

Nashville-based Corrections Corp. of America owns and operates the Stewart Detention Center south of Atlanta and Miami-based CGL and LaSalle Corrections — headquartered in Louisiana — run the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla. Both centers hold detainees for ICE.