The New Focus of ICE: Bingo and Dance Lessons

Within the past few weeks, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials announced their intention to make less jail-like the 30,000-bed detention facilities system under their operation. These are facilities that house thousands of individuals who await deportation from the United States or are being held pending a review of their request for asylum. ICE contends that most of these individuals pose little to no threat and thus the current conditions under which they are being held pending deportation need not be unpleasant. What changes does ICE intend for these detention facilities?

For starters, ICE plans to remove from detention facilities much of their confining nature. Detainees are soon to be allowed greater access to visitors, often unmonitored. How about balanced nutrition? ICE plans to provide a vegetable and soda bar. What about access to the information superhighway? ICE now wants to provide internet access coupled with free, internet based phone calls (VOIP). How about entertainment? ICE would like to provide Bingo nights, dance lessons, and cooking classes. To top off the proposed changes, ICE would like to relax or eliminate the conditions under which detainees are pat-searched. Sound more like a resort than a detention facility? Many people think so.

Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) has taken exception to the proposed changes, citing the potential moral hazard that the changes could produce. In a letter written to John Morton, Assistant Secretary of ICE, Grassley stated, “These detainees, low-risk or not, broke the law in order to enter or remain in this country, and could have more entertainment and access to the outside world than other inmates in U.S. jails.” Grassley continued, “Giving illegal aliens access to computer training and tutoring, as well as dance lessons, cooking classes and movie nights, will only encourage illegal aliens to ignore the law and take more risks to defraud our immigration system.”

Chris Crane, president of a union representing over 7,000 ICE employees, argued that the proposed changes, particularly those limiting ICE officials from pat-searching detainees, posed an increased risk to ICE employees. “It just makes for an absolutely unsafe environment, not only for the detainees, but for the officers.”

Ultimately, the concerns presented by Messrs. Grassley and Crane are both legitimate and relevant. ICE may genuinely argue that those who comprise the detainee population within these facilities are of little threat; however, the underlying circumstances that brought them into ICE detention in the first place should remain notable. ICE could instill a modicum of confidence within the American public if it were to focus more on providing a safe and dependable environment along the border than on providing a more refined and generous array of amenities to those under detention.