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Report on Women in Detention

Report on Women in Detention

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Published by: aughra hernandez on Jan 22, 2009
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Women make up a growing share of the population of immigration detainees.
According to ICE, women now account for ten percent of the daily population
detained by ICE, which would suggest roughly 3,000 women are held in immigration
detention on any given day.15

The increasing number of women in detention is due to the interplay of
several factors. Federal criminal prosecution of immigration violations has
increased dramatically in recent years, resulting in more women as well as men
charged with immigration violations.16

Immigrant women also make up a growing

share of the low-wage immigrant workforce.17

With this increase in women
workers, those who are undocumented are inevitably affected by interior ICE
enforcement, specifically workplace raids.18

Finally, over the past several
decades, increased prosecution of drug offenses and harsh mandatory sentencing as
part of the “war on drugs” has resulted in a drastic rise in the number of women in
both prison and jail.19

It has also corresponded with an increase in noncitizens

prosecuted for drug offenses.20

All these factors – increased prosecution of immigration violations,
workplace raids, and harsh sentencing for drug offenses – have resulted in a
growing population of noncitizen women in prison and jail. Given the scope of
mandatory detention and ICE’s rare use of parole, these women are highly likely to
be transferred to immigration custody during or after their sentences. In addition,
women are migrating to the United States, both with and without legal


Email sent to the National Immigrant Justice Center from Kendra Wallace, National Outreach Coordinator,
Office of Policy, ICE (May 14, 2008) (on file with SIROW).


From 1996 to 2000, the number of prosecutions for immigration offenses more than doubled. Of the 14,540
defendants charged with immigration offenses in 2000, 7.7% were women. See John Scalia and Marika F. X.
Litras, Immigration Offenders in the Federal Criminal Justice System, 2000, Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S.
Department of Justice 4 (August 2002).


According to census data, women made up 44% of the country’s low-wage immigrant work force in 2002.
Urban Institute, A Profile of the Low-Wage Immigrant Workforce (November 2003), available at


For example, in a raid in Houston, Texas on a rag-exporting factory in June 2008, 130 of the 166 people
detained were women. James Pinkerton, Employer Arrests Could Follow Houston Immigration Raid, HOUSTON
CHRONICLE (June 26, 2008). This raid was just one of many. According to ICE statistics for the 2007 fiscal year,
ICE made 863 criminal arrests and 4,077 administrative arrests across the nation solely as a result of worksite
enforcement efforts. Id. As of August 2008, ICE was on pace to far surpass these numbers for the 2008 fiscal
year. See http://www.ice.gov/pi/news/factsheets/worksite.htm.


The number of women incarcerated in state or federal prisons nationwide increased nearly eight fold
between 1990 and 2000. The increase in the rate of imprisonment for women has outpaced the increase for
men every year since the mid-1980’s. Barbara Bloom et. al., Gender-Responsive Strategies: Research,
Practice, and Guiding Principles for Women Offenders 3, National Institute of Corrections (2003) (hereafter
“Gender-Responsive Strategies”). While the major factor driving growth in the male prison population is
violent offenses, the major factor for women prisoners is increased drug charges. Id.


Immigration and Criminal Justice System Fact Sheet, Women in Prison Project (April 2007), available at


authorization, in ever-growing numbers.21

As the number of women migrants
increase, the number of those apprehended and detained for civil violations of
immigration law increases as well.

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