Alternatives to Detention are a No-Brainer

In comments on Tuesday in Nevada, Hilary Clinton called for reform of U.S. immigration detention, a system that the New York Times called “unjust” in an editorial yesterday. The Times also noted President Obama’s failure to reform the detention system.

The Obama Administration uses three facilities to detain mothers and children, many of whom are seeking asylum from violence and persecution in Central America. The administration also detains other asylum seekers, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender immigrants who have fled persecution. Clinton said: “I don’t think we should put children and vulnerable people into big detention facilities because I think they’re at risk.”

recent poll conducted for Human Rights First by Public Opinion Strategies revealed that voters in key congressional districts, as well as voters in early primary states New Hampshire and South Carolina, support the use of alternatives to detention instead of locking up asylum seekers for months while they await the outcome of their immigration cases. A majority of Republicans, Independents, and Democrats all support this approach by a wide margin, while the key target demographic of Independent women supports this proposal by an overwhelming 71%-27%. The poll also showed strong support for other reforms that would help improve protections for refugees seeking safety in the United States.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the American Bar Association, and a range of other voices have called for an end to family detention. They also advocate for alternative measures in cases where additional support is needed to assure appearance for hearings and removal.

Alternatives to detention, including case management, community based programs, and a range of electronic monitoring approaches, can also save taxpayer money. Alternatives typically cost only about $5 to $20 a day—compared to $343 a day for just one family detention bed. These measures have also proven effective. Alternatives used by ICE result in a reported 97 percent appearance at immigration hearings and 85 percent compliance with removal orders.

As the Council on Foreign Relations Independent Task Force on Immigration Policy, co-chaired by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former Clinton White House chief of staff Thomas “Mack” McLarty, pointed out in its 2009 report, alternatives to detention can “ensure that the vast majority of those facing deportation comply with the law, and at much lower costs.” In fact, criminal just systems—prompted by reformers like the Texas Public Policy Foundation, home to Right on Crime—are increasingly tapping alternatives due to their effectiveness and cost savings.

Ending family detention and implementing a more humane and cost-effective approach should be a no-brainer for all U.S. political leaders. The Obama administration should do so now to uphold American ideals rather than permanently staining his legacy.”

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  • Eleanor Acer

Published on May 7, 2015

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