Sequestration Presents Opportunity to Reduce Unnecessary Immigration Detention Costs

Spending Cuts Could Compound Delays in Already Backlogged Immigration Courts

New York City – As the nation’s sequester spending cuts kick in at midnight, Human Rights First says the cuts warrant a closer look at how bloated detention costs can be reduced, including through the use of cost-effective alternatives such as monitored release programs. The group also warns that the spending cuts could increase delays in immigration court hearings, a development that could have devastating consequences for asylum seekers and other immigrants.

“In criminal justice systems across the country, a dramatically growing number of jurisdictions are using scientifically validated risk assessments to identify low risk individuals who can be released pending trial without unduly endangering the community or court processes,” says Tim Murray, executive director of the Pretrial Justice Institute, the nation’s leading pretrial services organization since 1976. “Over the past decades, communities served by evidenced-based pretrial services programs have experienced reductions in needless pretrial detention and its staggering fiscal and social costs without a corresponding increase in failure to appear or re-arrest while on release.” The International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Conference of Chief Justices have issued resolutions in support of the use of pre-trial services programs.

“Criminal justice systems across the country use pre-trial services or supervision, bail, or release on recognizance for individuals whose cases are pending,” said Human Rights First’s Ruthie Epstein, who chaired a series of four Dialogues on Detention across the country in 2012, events that included criminal justice and corrections professionals. “The bottom line is that alternatives to detention can save millions of dollars. ICE and Congress should be looking to alternatives in order to reduce unnecessary detention costs in general, not just during sequestration.”

On Wednesday, Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) shared similar sentiments when she issued a statement to “set the record straight”. In it, she noted, “The sequester is forcing ICE to do what it should have been doing already – placing people who don’t pose a threat to their communities or our country into the proven Alternatives to Detention Program. Whereas locking up an immigrant costs the American taxpayer more than $150 a day, these proven supervision programs cost about $10 a day. More importantly, with success rates above 90 percent, they deliver strong results.”

Human Rights First has long advocated for expanded alternatives to detention that can save taxpayers millions of dollars. Every year, ICE detains nearly 400,000 asylum seekers and other immigrants whose civil cases are pending in jails and jail-like facilities at a cost of $2 billion. Human Rights First has reported that ICE’s alternatives to detention programs cost 30 cents to $14 per day, as compared to $164 per day for detention.

In a separate and unrelated consequence of the looming budget cuts, Human Rights First notes that the sequester threatens to disrupt the already severely backlogged and overloaded immigration court system. Sequestration will reportedly force the Executive Office for Immigration Review to cut its budget by $15 million, leading to a hiring freeze of immigration judges and court staff. Attorney General Eric Holder has stated that sequestration will create new court delays for immigrants, including asylum seekers and detained immigrants. There are already 323,725 pending cases in immigration court, and the average wait time for a case to be completed is a year and a half.

“A hiring freeze will have dire consequences for our refugee clients, some of whose cases have already dragged on for years,” said Human Rights First’s Vanessa Allyn, managing attorney of the organization’s pro bono representation program in D.C.

For more information, see Human Rights First’s Blueprint for the Next Administration: How to Repair the U.S. Immigration Detention System and How to Repair the U.S. Asylum and Refugee Resettlement Systems.


Published on March 1, 2013


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