Punishing with Impunity: The Legacy of Risk Classification in Immigration Detention
Written By: Robert Koulish and Kate Evans
In 2012, the Department of Homeland Security adopted a risk classification assessment (“RCA”) tool to run on migrants in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”). The risk tool helped determine who was detained and who was released from ICE custody. It was intended to curb detention rates by limiting detention based on risk of flight and danger and to ensure that the conditions of civil immigration detention were distinct from those in criminal detention. This Article presents data from several RCA data-sets received pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act.
The story of the RCA is one of manipulation, subversion, and bias. In this study, we examine the RCA’s outcomes for migrants with special vulnerabilities, migrants subject to mandatory detention, and migrants eligible for bond and release. We demonstrate that over time the risk tool recommended release or bond for fewer and fewer categories. Further, ICE officers’ punitive use of detention defeated attempts at top-down reform and resulted in detention without bond for nearly every migrant.
As the Biden administration faces mounting criticism over its detention policy, our results amplify calls to shift the paradigm in immigration enforcement and to eliminate the use of detention as the predominant method of immigration control.
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