Our Regional Coordination team is available for informational calls and interviews:

Information and statistics on immigration detention

Last updated August 9, 2019:

The number of people held in immigration detentions rises and immigration control agreements between the U.S. and Mexico will only worsen the humanitarian crisis.

In light of recent immigration control agreements between the U.S., Mexico and Guatemala, the IDC is concerned about the severe consequences that such measures will have on the rights of migrants and refugees.

These agreements promote more restrictive immigration control and detention policies, which intensify the humanitarian crisis and result in increased human rights violations of people with international protection needs.


Immigration Detention in Mexico

In just the six first months of 2019, Mexico has detained more than 108,000 people for immigration purposes – including children and adolescents. In 2018, this number exceeded 138,000 people.

Almost 30% of people locked-up in immigration detention in Mexico are children and adolescents. Immigration detention of children is a child rights violation, and is also a violation of Mexican law.

Official statistics on Mexico available at: See: figures for “extranjeros presentados,” which refers to immigration detention.
Official statistics on the U.S. available at: y Note on U.S. statistics at the bottom of this page.

Immigration Detentions in the U.S.

Just in the month of May, the US detained 84,542 families in addition to 11,507 children and adolescents who were traveling unaccompanied, along the Southwest border.

In 2018, the US locked-up more than 396,000 people in immigration detention centers. This represents an increase of 22.5% from 2017.

Basic Concepts

Immigration detention and why it’s harmful

Immigration detention is the governmental practice of depriving an individual of their liberty due to their undocumented and/or unauthorized entrance, transit or permanence in a country.

Such confinement occurs in a closed facility, from which the person is not allowed to leave at will. Immigration detention is implemented in a variety of places including airports, prisons, closed-door reception and housing centers, as well as in facilities specifically for immigration detention purposes, among others. Immigration detention is also referred to and implemented under a variety of terms, most of which are euphemisms for what is actually an extremely harmful practice.

Practically all deprivation of liberty can be seriously damaging to a person’s emotional, mental and physical health, with lasting impacts even long after the detention has ended. Therefore, detention is almost always the most harmful and least ideal way for States to fulfill their migration governance objectives and responsibilities. Furthermore, the impact that immigration detention has on children’s physical, emotional and psychological development has proven to be even more devastating and as such, is always incompatible with the best interests of the child.

For these reasons, regional and international human rights standards are clear that immigration detention should only be used as a last resort, in exceptional cases, and should be completely avoided for children, youth, asylum seekers, refugees, and others in vulnerable situations.

Immigration detention criminalizes people who are undocumented in the sense that it penalizes or punishes irregular entry or stay in a country, and in this way becomes equivalent to a criminal sanction. This occurs when immigration detention is not used as a last resort, when it is not proven to be necessary, reasonable, and proportionate to a legitimate government objective, when it is applied in a discriminatory manner, or when it occurs in the context of other international human rights violations.


Alternatives to detention

Alternatives to detention include any law, policy or practice through which people are not detained for reasons related to their migration situation. Alternatives allow people to live freely in the community, where they are supported to meet their basic needs and participate in their immigration or asylum process.


  • Are more “humane”
  • Are less expensive than detention
  • Achieve higher rates of compliance with immigration processes

The ideal alternative operates with a presumption of freedom as the starting point, without any restrictions or conditions to personal liberty. Alternatives should be implemented from the very first contact with immigration authorities and until decisions regarding a person’s stay in the country are executed.


Community-Based Case Management

Case management is a key element for successful alternatives. It is a comprehensive and systematic service-delivery approach that is implemented during the time in which immigration and asylum procedures take place and until final decisions are executed. Case management supports informed decision-making, promotes timely and fair care resolution, and facilitates a coordinated response. Case management centers on understanding and responding to the capacities, needs and challenges of individuals and their context, including personal resources, vulnerability, protection and risk factors (such as non-compliance with immigration procedures).

About IDC

The International Detention Coalition (IDC) is a global network of over 400 civil society organizations, religious groups, academics, professionals and individuals in almost 90 countries. As such, our members participate in a range of activities from research and training to advocacy and monitoring, to direct services provision, all on behalf of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants affected by immigration detention.

 IDC has worked in the Americas region since 2011, with the goal of limiting the use of immigration detention and ensuring the right to personal freedom through development and implementation of alternatives. Together with our members and partners, we have conducted awareness raising and campaigns on the harms of immigration detention, provided technical advice and training to governments and civil society, researched positive practices in alternatives, developed and piloted alternative models, and facilitated dialogue and collaboration in local and regional networks. As a matter of priority, we have focused on preventing and eradicating immigration detention of children.

Note on U.S. statistics
Data includes the number of people held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities specific for immigration detention use. See: “‘Initial Book-ins/admissions to ICE detention facility”, which refers to people being officially held in an ICE facility, as the result of a previous detention or apprehension by ICE or Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Available at: