After a series of failures in adopting comprehensive immigration reform in the past three decades, it is only natural to ask: when it comes to immigration, is there something that Americans can agree on?
Indeed, there is a cheaper, more efficient and more humane alternative for the tens of thousands of children and adults who continue to be held in detention centers solely because of their migration status. For voters who care most about the humane treatment of migrant children and families, Alternatives to Detention (ATD) offer a solution that respects the fundamental rights of migrants. For those focused on the budget, the evidence shows that ATDs are much more cost effective than detention, while still ensuring that immigration laws are successfully implemented. And like our new data shows, countries around the world have already put these solutions into practice. So how do we get everyone involved – and what would it take to make this happen in the United States?
The human rights arguments for ending the detention of migrants are clear. Detained migrant children, as well as those separated from their families, typically suffer from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Children and adults housed in overcrowded premises also face higher risks of contracting a wide range of communicable diseases; between January 2017 and March 2020 alone, 22 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers reported 79 homes flu, chickenpox or mumps. And beyond the health consequences, detained children are often denied access to education, threatening their development and long-term opportunities. International treaties ratified by the United States make it clear that imposing detention based solely on migration status violates the right to liberty, while the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has urged that “any form of detention of migrant children should be prohibited by law”.
Yet the economic argument is just as compelling. ICE Budget 2021 included over $ 2.8 billion – almost $ 8 million per day – for “conservation operations”; at the same time, the overall budgets of ICE and customs and border protection have almost triple since 2003. Meanwhile, evidence from the United States and other high income countries shows that alternatives to detention that allow migrant families to live in the community while their cases are pending are not only effective but much cheaper than detention. For example, a short-lived ATD piloted in the United States, the Family case management program (FCMP), provided 952 families of asylum seekers with referrals to medical and legal services, English lessons and documentation assistance, among other social supports. In addition to maintaining family unity and treating migrant families humanely, the FCMP costs only $ 38.47 per family, per day, compared to between $ 237.60 and $ 318.79 for family detention, while achieving a 99% compliance rate with immigration court requirements.
So let’s agree to spend less and do better. If we reduce our spending on immigrant detention by 80% and reallocate half of the remaining budget to programs like the FCMP, we can ensure the integrity and efficiency of our immigration system while respecting humanity. migrants. It’s not that radical: The ICE wasn’t created until 2003, and so nearly two decades later, the evidence is clear that there are effective and better approaches for people one-eighth to one-sixth of the cost, we shouldn’t hesitate to change course and free up hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in the process.
The United States should also pass legislation prioritizing ATDs to guide budget decisions going forward. We would be far from being the first country to do so. In one new study Out of 150 country laws we released this week, we found that nearly three-quarters of high-income countries have laws prohibiting or limiting the detention of migrant or asylum-seeking children accompanied by their families. Strong protections are also found in countries across income groups: Costa Rica, for example, prohibits all detention of migrant children and explicitly provides for ATDs in law.
In the United States, while conditions of detention have varied by administration, the detention of immigrants on a large scale – including children – is a long-standing publish. And although case law – in particular, the Flores vs. Reno settlement, which emerged from a class action lawsuit filed in 1985 – offered important protections, it lack adequate enforcement mechanisms and does not replace comprehensive legislation prohibiting the detention of migrant children in all circumstances and adopting permanent social service-based ATDs.
Of course, not all ATDs are created equal. Right now, what ICE calls an ATD – a program that many believe requires continuous electronic monitoring via ankle monitors – is not really an “alternative” at all, but a Additional set of conditions imposed on migrants who are released after determining that they present a minimal risk of flight. The use of this approach by ICE in recent years has therefore neither reduced the number of detentions nor reduced costs as a real ATD would. In addition, these invasive technologies have repeatedly been condemned by UN agencies. Moving forward with legislation to establish permanent ATDs in the United States will require careful attention to detail and the contribution of affected communities; however, American policymakers do not need to start from scratch, as many other countries have demonstrated the feasibility of real alternatives that prioritize the dignity of all.
Immigrants are America’s strength: they drive the economy, make immeasurable contributions to our culture, and fuel essential innovation and entrepreneurship. And although Americans differ on some aspects of politics, there is a broad consensus on the value of immigration: according to recent Gallup polls, 77% of Americans I agree that immigration is good for the country, while 81 percent support a path to citizenship for undocumented migrants. Alternatives to detention reflect these widely shared values and make financial sense. This is something we can all agree on.
Jody Heymann is Distinguished Professor in the Faculties of Public Affairs and Public Health at UCLA and Founding Director of the WORLD Policy Analysis Center.
Aleta Sprague is a lawyer and senior legal analyst at WORLD.