Report Details Flaws in U.S. Immigration Detention System

In a comprehensive and compelling report released today, the Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (MRS/USCCB) and the Center for Migration Studies (CMS), recommend that the United States dismantle its flawed immigration detention system. It should instead rely primarily on case management and other alternative measures to assure that a person appears for immigration proceedings, the report says.

Six years after the Obama Administration committed to reform the immigration detention system, the report—Unlocking Human Dignity: A Plan to Transform the U.S. Immigrant Detention Systemconcludes that the number of immigration detainees has risen and that “the overwhelming majority of persons in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have remained in prisons, jails and other secure facilities where they are subject to standards designed for criminal defendants and, in many ways, treated more harshly than criminals.” The United States detains about 400,000 immigrants each year, including asylum seekers, at a cost of more than $2 billion.

Last year, the Obama administration began ratcheting up its detention of mothers and children seeking asylum from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. It plans to increase its detention of families from Central America by  3700 percent  at a cost of over $3 million. The Obama Administration has also resurrected a ruling by former Attorney General John Ashcroft to justify the continued detention of an asylum seeker, even if he or she satisfies the requirements for release, in order to “send a message” to discourage other asylum seekers from coming to the United States. The Catholic Bishops’ report calls on the Obama Administration to “desist” from this approach.  A federal court ruling on this issue is expected shortly.

While it costs over $300 a day to detain a mother or child at the “family” detention facility in Dilley, Texas, alternative measures for assuring appearance cost much less—often less than $17 a day.  A recent poll, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies for Human Rights First, reveals that 62% voters in key congressional districts, and in New Hampshire and South Carolina, support the use of alternatives rather than holding asylum seekers in detention facilities.

The Catholic Bishops join an array of voices—from the American Bar Association and the Association of Pro Bono Counsel to faith leaders to other groups that advocate the protection of refugees—calling for the administration to reform its approach. It’s long past time for the administration to change course. If it doesn’t, its legacy will be forever tainted by its escalation of immigration detention.



  • Eleanor Acer

Published on May 11, 2015


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