updated 10/6/2009 3:17:11 PM ET 2009-10-06T19:17:11

Illegal immigrants awaiting deportation would be confined according to the risk they may pose under a new plan proposed Tuesday by the homeland security secretary.

Former hotels, nursing homes and other sites would be used to hold nonviolent, non-criminal immigrants as part of a larger plan to reform immigration detention. The alternative sites are intended to cut the costs of detaining immigrants, which reached nearly $2 billion in 2008.

"We need to take what was a non-system and make it a system ... a decent system that meets standards of health and safety," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in detailing her plan Tuesday. "Ultimately, we want to get this right; it is not easy, but it is important work."

Currently, the federal immigration detention system uses a contractor network of local jails, prisons and other facilities to house on average 32,000 detainees a day. The amount of time in detention varies widely but most people are held for a little more than a month.

The plan is based on a review of immigration detention by Dora Schriro, Napolitano's former detention adviser. She resigned last month to become commissioner of New York City's jails.

Cost-saving measure
Under the plan, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of the Homeland Security Department, will develop a way to classify immigrant detainees that will determine the facility where they are detained.

John Morton, head of ICE, will research the hotels and other venues where nonviolent, non-criminal immigrants could be held. The agency expects to save money by not putting everyone in local, state and government jails and prisons as they do now.

ICE also will submit to Congress in coming weeks a plan for using alternatives to detention. The agency says possible alternatives will cost only about $14 a day compared with about $100 a day for detention.

The agency has completed one of the reforms announced in August, removing families from T. Don Hutto detention center, a former prison in central Texas. The agency plans to detain women there who are now held at three facilities in Texas, saving about $900,000 through the end of the year, the documents state.

The agency said it paid $2.8 million a month at Hutto even when it was not full.

ICE plans to put 50 federal employees in detention centers where more than 80 percent of immigrants are held, more than double the 23 employees announced in August, in an effort to improve conditions. Hiring notices for the jobs were posted Sept. 18.

ICE says it has paid $200,000 per facility at more than 30 facilities for contractors to monitor conditions. But the agency says a federal employee, training and equipment would cost about $160,000.

More on: Janet Napolitano

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