Panel Paper: Immigration Enforcement Governance: Detention Facility Performance in an Intergovernmental and Inter-Sectoral Context

Friday, November 3, 2017
San Francisco (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jocelyn Johnston, Zachary Bauer and Stephen B. Holt, American University

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency relies on an intergovernmental and inter-sectoral system to manage detention facilities for unauthorized immigrants. Immigrant detention facilities are managed either directly by ICE, through ICE contracts with states or local governments, or through ICE contracts with private entities. States and local governments either operate their contracted facilities directly, or through subcontracts with private entities. Direct ICE management is used for less than 5% of total detention facilities. The diversity of detention governance arrangements, combined with the contested political context surrounding immigration reform, including local government “sanctuary city” declarations, raise questions about how detention facilities vary with regard to practices and performance, how variations might affect detainees, and how ICE managers might best oversee and assess this complicated system. While in theory all detention facilities are held accountable to the National Detention Standards created by Congress, specific performance standards vary by facility type and are sometimes determined through the facility manager’s discretion. Reliance on public and private actor discretion to address the void created by ambiguous monitoring guidelines and policy confusion creates opportunities for inconsistencies in applying standards and compliance.

The current study aims to examine 256 ICE detention facilities, their institutional contexts, and their performance based on a range of criteria. Publicly available data on facilities’ formal evaluation ratings, violent incidents, and inmate grievances between 2002 and 2012 will be analyzed, supplemented with a qualitative inquiry through in-depth interviews with relevant actors in a small number of states to gain further perspective on detention practices. We hope to contribute through this research in two ways. First, we will assess whether and how performance differs across governance arrangements. Second, we will identify a range of factors that explain detention facility performance. In addition to the roles of facility type and sector, our analysis will examine the impacts of staff and inmate demography (as delineated in representative bureaucracy theory), the complexity and type of contracting arrangements (direct vs. through local government), and other variables derived from literatures on government contracting, street-level and representative bureaucracy, and performance management.