"The administration is doing everything it can on all fronts to detain and deport as many people as possible, and to criminalize as many people as possible," says the executive director of Detention Watch Network.
This was in response to news that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has recently posted Requests for Information on a government contracting website. The RFIs seek to identify private detention facilities in five areas: Detroit, Chicago, St. Paul, Salt Lake City and southern Texas.
The agency plans to house around 4,000 immigration detainees at these private facilities. The four cities chosen are all sanctuary cities.
This expansion of detention facilities is perhaps in response to the massive increase in detention that has taken place during the Trump administration. Between Jan. 22 and Sept. 9, ICE has arrested 97,482 people it suspects of being unauthorized immigrants -- a 43-percent increase over the same period last year.
During the same period, according to USA TODAY, ICE arrested some 28,011 unauthorized immigrants without criminal records. That is a 179-percent increase over last year. Past administrations have typically focused on arresting unauthorized immigrants with serious criminal records.
Each day, ICE houses somewhere between 31,000 and 41,000 immigration detainees in local jails, private facilities and federal prisons. The agency says it is ramping up to a detainee capacity of 48,000 per day.
The agency notes that the Requests for Information are far from final. They are in response, however, to a White House request for an additional $1.2 billion in the 2018 budget for detention alone.
The reason sanctuary cities were chosen may be simple expediency, according to a spokesperson for the Center for Immigration Studies, which backs Trump on immigration policy. "ICE cannot rely on local law enforcement agencies to cooperate with them in holding deportable criminal aliens, so they have to acquire their own space that they control."
Sanctuary cities are those which decline to cooperate with some federal immigration requests, such as issuing detainers whenever suspected unauthorized immigrants are arrested. Most cite the need for a relationship of trust between law enforcement and the immigrant community. If immigrants fear calling the police will result in immigration consequences, they won't call. That means victims and potential witnesses will be unavailable to police.
Recently, the federal government announced a $457-million contract with a leading private prison contractor, GEO Group. It will use the money to build and operate a new immigration detention center outside Houston.
"To me, this is a signal that ICE wants to be ready, pen in hand, to sign new detention contracts as soon as Congress appropriates more money for detention," said a spokesman for the ACLU's National Prison Project.