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Does A Year In ICE Custody Truly Cost 4 Times A Year In Public School?

Sen. Patty Murray says a year in ICE detention would run taxpayers four times what it costs to put a kid in school for a year. Close, but no cigar.
Posted at 11:05 PM, May 23, 2018

During a hearing on the budget for the Department of Homeland Security, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray made a comparison about how much it costs to put someone in ICE detention. And her comparison isn't quite accurate.

"Each year ICE detains someone, it costs taxpayers over $50,000," Murray said. "For comparison, by the way, that's four times the amount the federal government spends on each child in our public schools."

What Sen. Murray said is close, but no cigar. If ICE were to hold someone for a year, it would likely cost taxpayers $50,074. That's probably a conservative estimate. Government spending in public schools is a little over $13,000 per student per year. That means ICE would spend a little less than four times what the government spends on students to keep someone detained for a year.

But ICE detentions usually don't last a year — the average stay is about 40 days. That said, there are reports of people being held for months or years.

And that public school spending figure includes state and local spending. If we're just looking at what the U.S. government puts into public schools, it's way less: about $1,100 a student annually.

So Murray's point here stands firm: If the federal government were to put someone in ICE detention for a year, it would spend way more than what it spends on a student in the public school system. Her numbers, though, miss the mark.