How Much It Costs to Detain Immigrants to the US, and How Keeping Families Together Actually Saves Money

Donald Trump clapping

Donald Trump | Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

One of the biggest issues people had with the way Donald Trump‘s administration was handling migrant families was that children were being separated from their loved ones. Before the president signed an executive order allowing families to stay together, children were separated and placed in what was known as a “tender age facility.”  Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told ABC News the children she saw at one of the detention facilities were traumatized.

Celebrities, politicians, and former first ladies united to share their concern. In a column for The Washington Post, former first lady Laura Bush expressed her outrage concerning the separation of families:

I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart. Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso. These images are eerily reminiscent of the internment camps for U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent during World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history.

Melania Trump’s surprise visit

After Donald Trump signed the executive First Lady Melania Trump decided to make a surprise visit to a McAllen, Texas border detention center to show her support of migrant families.

Melania’s spokesperson Stephanie Grisham told CNN the first lady wants to see first-hand how things are going at the detention center. Said Grisham, “She wants to see what’s real. She wanted to see as close to what she had been seeing on TV. She wants to see a realistic view of what’s happening.”

The high cost of detaining immigrants in the US

More than $2 billion is spent by Immigration and Customs Enforcement annually to detain immigrants in private jails, according to an NPR report. Furthermore, ICE and the U.S. Marshals Service pay GEO Group, one of the country’s largest private prison companies, $32 million a year to provide food shelter, and medical care to detainees.

The taxpayer cost to detain immigrants is highest in the states of Washington and California, according to Freedom for Immigrants, an organization focused on ending immigration detention. Each day it costs $145.19 per person per day to detain someone in Washington. The cost to detain someone in California is slightly lower at $144.35 per person each day. This total includes the cost of guards, healthcare, and any other direct costs. CNBC reports the per-person cost at some centers can be as high as $298 per night.

How keeping families together saves money

Separating families is more expensive than keeping them together. It costs roughly $775 per person per night to detain newly separated children of families who cross the U.S. border illegally, according to CNBC. That’s almost double the cost to keep the migrant children with their families in certain detention facilities.

Keeping families together could save money by significantly reducing costs. “The [Health and Human Services] official, and several former officials, told NBC that the high costs come from the need to immediately supply the newly constructed tents with air conditioning, as well as medical workers and other employees,” reports CNBC.

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