According to Department of Justice statistics released on May 2, 24% of federal inmates were born outside the U.S., and over half of them have received a final deportation order.

In announcing a new DOJ report, Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared illegal aliens who commit further crimes in this country “are a threat to public safety and a burden on our criminal justice system.” As an aside, if the cost for incarcerating non-citizen inmates is the same as the overall average for all inmates in federal lock-ups, it would amount to more than $1.2 billion annually. Sessions also called for securing the border with a new wall and more effective law enforcement, including greater cooperation among federal, state and local agencies.

The report gave 45,493 as the total number of foreign-born inmates in Federal Bureau of Prisons custody as of March 25 this year. Since 3,939 of them are now citizens (whether by completing the naturalization process or otherwise), 41,554 of foreign-born inmates supervised by the BOP are non-citizens. With inmates who have become U.S. citizens removed, foreign-born inmates still constitute about 22% of the total federal prison population.

Of the 41,554 non-citizens in BOP-supervised incarceration, DOJ estimates 22,541 (or 54.2%) have already received final deportation orders, another 13,886 (or 33.4%) are being investigated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for possible deportation, and 5,101 more (or 12.3%) have been charged by ICE with immigration law violations that could lead to deportation, but their cases have not been finalized. Only 26 aliens in federal lock-ups (or 0.1% of the total) had qualified for asylum treatment.

Statistics on the BOP website give a citizenship breakdown for federal inmates. They indicated 147,587 (or 78.3%), were U.S. citizens. Among non-citizen federal inmates, 26,737 (or 14.2%) had Mexican citizenship. Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba each accounted for less than 1%, and 5.1% were citizens of other nations or their citizenship was unknown.

The DOJ report was mandated by section 16 of the Trump administration’s Jan. 25 executive order on immigration, which requires the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to collect data and issue quarterly reports on the immigration status of all non-citizens incarcerated in BOP-supervised settings.

It further requires similar reports for aliens detained while awaiting federal trials. The report notes the U.S. Marshals Service only recently began sharing daily updates with ICE on new detainees, having thus far sent ICE about 19,000 names. Once it hears back from ICE on detainees’ immigration status, the Marshals Service will compile the data in a new Justice Detainee Information System and use it to update the first and subsequent DOJ quarterly reports.

Quarterly reports are also required on the immigration status of one more group, non-citizens incarcerated in state prisons and local detention centers, but the DOJ report admits neither Justice nor Homeland Security has such a data-collection program yet. But, it notes, DOJ is working to create one, which will be placed within its Office of Justice Programs, whose Bureau of Justice Statistics already collects some of the data needed from state and local penal institutions.

Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at and

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).