Report by Harvard Law School Crimmigration Clinic Highlights Millions of Mass. Taxpayer Dollars Spent on Immigration Detention Without Accountability


A new report authored by the Harvard Law School Crimmigration Clinic reveals an accounting system across Massachusetts county sheriff offices that fails to fully and transparently account for costs incurred for providing federal agencies with immigration detention services.

The report’s findings call into question assertions by some sheriffs who claim that providing federal agencies immigration detention services benefits Massachusetts taxpayers. Although sheriff offices that contract with federal agencies to provide detention services receive federal reimbursements, it is unclear whether those reimbursements cover the sheriffs’ costs. Public records demonstrate that Massachusetts sheriffs’ offices either do not track the costs incurred for providing immigration detention services, or do not do so uniformly and systematically.

“It is concerning that millions of Massachusetts taxpayer dollars are being spent by county sheriffs providing immigration detention services without a uniform and transparent system to track whether federal reimbursements for those services are covering costs,” said Philip Torrey who directs the HLS Crimmigration Clinic.

The detention facilities that currently contract with federal agencies to provide immigration detention services include the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, and the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Office. Until last year, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office also had a federal contract to hold immigration detainees. Those contracts allow sheriffs’ offices to receive reimbursements for certain services including housing and transporting immigration detainees. But it is unclear whether the reimbursement rates in those contracts completely and accurately account for the costs the sheriffs’ offices incur.

According to Torrey, “making immigration detention profitable for local sheriffs certainly does not solve our country’s immigration detention crisis. At the very least, facilities in Massachusetts choosing to provide federal agencies with immigration detention services should be held accountable by Massachusetts taxpayers. That accountability should begin with transparent reporting requirements.”

The Crimmigration Clinic, established in 2013, is part of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program. Students in the clinic work on cutting-edge issues regarding the 2 intersection of criminal law and immigration law. For example, students represent clients in administrative and federal appellate courts concerning the growing use of immigration detention, due process concerns in crime-based removal proceedings, and constitutional issues arising from state enforcement of federal immigration laws. Students also work closely with organizations seeking to advance immigrants’ rights through litigation and policy initiatives. On litigation and policy matters, the clinic often collaborates with non-profit organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, and the Immigrant Defense Project.

Clinical instruction plays an important role in Harvard Law School’s legal education. Through the collective efforts of the school’s 44 legal clinics and student practice organizations, the school deepens students’ practical experience by enabling them to learn the skills that lawyers use. Under the supervision of clinicians, students advocate on behalf of clients and causes while helping to improve the lives of individuals through pro bono legal representation. In fact, more than 80 percent of Harvard’s JD students enroll in at least one clinic during their time at HLS, and more than 40 percent take two or more clinics. Existing HLS legal clinics focus on a wide range of legal areas, from cyber law, as well as tax and veterans’ law to international human rights law, immigration law, and housing law.