This paper argues that the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility’s (IIRIRA) detention mandate, special interest groups, and major federal policies have come together to fuel the expansion of immigrant detention to unprecedented levels. It discusses the implications of the growth in immigrant detention for human rights, legislative representation, and democracy in the United States. This study analyzes two main questions: What is the role of special interests in the criminalization of immigrants? Does the rapid increase in detention pose challenges or risks to democracy? The paper uses a unique dataset to reveal that major restrictive federal immigration policies such as IIRIRA and the increasing federal immigration enforcement budget have had a significant impact on immigrant detention rates. Based on these findings, the paper recommends: 1) increased transparency and accountability in data management from the Department of Homeland Security and on lobbying expenditures from for-profit detention corporations, 2) the repeal of mandatory detention laws, and 3) the repeal of the Congressional detention bed mandate.
This paper compares US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimates for visa overstays in fiscal year 2016 with estimates from the Center for Migration Studies (CMS). It finds that DHS has overstated the number of people from roughly 30 counties who have overstayed their temporary visas, half of them participants in the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP). In particular, the DHS estimates for 2016 include significant numbers of temporary visa holders who left the undocumented population, but whose departure could not be verified. Thus, the actual number of visa overstays in 2016 was about half of the number estimated by DHS. The paper also shows that the population growth of visa overstays was near zero in 2016 after adjusting DHS estimates to account for unrecorded departures. The country-specific figures in this paper should help DHS improve verification of departures of temporary visitors and also to reassess decisions about admission to the VWP.