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Detained Immigrant Population Grows to Nearly 40,000, the Highest Point in Nearly Four Years

November 16, 2023 (3 min read)

TRAC, Nov. 16, 2023

"According to the latest data released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a total of 39,748 immigrants were held in detention as of November 5, 2023. The last time detention numbers reached 40,000 was in January 2020. Immigrant detention numbers previously grew from around 20,000 at the beginning of the year to around 30,000 at the beginning of June, but then remained steady for most of the summer. ICE’s detention numbers began growing again since the end of August, when around 33,000 immigrants were detained.

The growth of ICE’s detained population is currently driven by immigration enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) arrested 29,818 or 75.0 percent of all detainees in the latest data. ICE, which is primarily responsible for interior enforcement rather than border enforcement, arrested another 9,930 or 25.0 percent of all detainees. Since the beginning of the year, the total number of immigrant detainees arrested by ICE has remained steadily between 9,000 and 10,000 at any point in time, while the number arrested by CBP ranged from a low of 11,862 on March 7 to its current high so far this year of nearly 30,000.

While detention numbers are on the rise, the number of immigrants enrolled in ICE’s electronic monitoring program known as “Alternatives to Detention” (ATD) dropped slightly over the past several weeks. ICE reports that 190,095 people were enrolled in ATD on November 4, down from 197,490 on September 10. ICE’s ATD population is down from a high of 377,980 in December of last year but remains within the range of ICE’s ATD numbers since August, totals between 190,000 and 200,000.

Hidden within ICE’s ATD numbers are two important developments. First, the number of people monitored on ICE’s new experimental GPS smartwatch monitoring device called VeriWatch doubled from 100 on September 9, to 200 on November 4. ICE’s lack of regular data releases in recent weeks makes it difficult to determine precisely when this expansion took place. TRAC previously reported on ICE’s expansion of VeriWatch from ICE’s Denver office, where it was first tested, to Los Angeles in August. This new expansion of VeriWatch now includes Dallas, where 34 migrants are monitored on the GPS watch, and El Paso (monitoring 38 people).

Second, the number of migrants monitored on what ICE refers to as “dual technology”—i.e., migrants monitored by both a GPS ankle monitor and the SmartLINK smartphone app at the same time—increased from 772 to 1,208 over the same time period. ICE’s practice of rolling out new technologies, such as the GPS smartwatches, while also “doubling-up” monitoring technologies on migrants indicates that while ATD numbers are not skyrocketing like they were throughout 2022, ICE’s ATD program continues to evolve in significant ways.

Highlights from data updated in TRAC's Detention Quick Facts tool show that:

  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement held 39,748 in ICE detention according to data current as of November 5, 2023.

  • 28,314 out of 39,748—or 71.2%—held in ICE detention have no criminal record, according to data current as of November 5, 2023. Many more have only minor offenses, including traffic violations.

  • ICE relied on detention facilities in Texas to house the most people at the beginning of FY 2024, according to data current as of October 10, 2023.

  • ICE arrested 6,799 and CBP arrested 17,297of the 24,096 people booked into detention by ICE during October 2023.

  • South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas held the largest number of ICE detainees at the beginning of FY 2024, averaging 2,046 per day (as of October 2023).

  • ICE Alternatives to Detention (ATD) programs are currently monitoring 190,095 families and single individuals, according to data current as of November 4, 2023.

  • San Francisco's area office has highest number in ICE's Alternatives to Detention (ATD) monitoring programs, according to data current as of November 4, 2023.

For more information, see TRAC's Quick Facts tools or click here to learn more about TRAC's entire suite of immigration tools."