Community-based Alternatives to Immigration Detention
by Detention Watch Network and Stanford Law School Immigrants' Rights Clinic (download full report)
August 25, 2010
Experience in pilot programs here and abroad has demonstrated that community-based alternatives to detention (ATDs) are cheaper, more effective, and more humane than the current U.S. immigration detention system. In 2010 alone, the United States will spend approximately $1.77 billion to detain close to 400,000 immigrants, despite the availability of far more cost effective alternatives to detention.
Community-based ATDs provide tailored supervision and services to immigrants to ensure that they show up for their immigration court dates.
ATDs have been shown to be extremely effective, without relying on overly restrictive surveillance and reporting mechanisms such as electronic monitoring, at a far lower cost to the government than full physical detention.
Community-based ATDs have several key elements:
Traditional case management and referrals to community support services with appropriate monitoring and supervision to ensure that immigrants attend court dates and comply with orders of removal.
Alternatives to detention are effective in achieving the government’s immigration goals.
The government can use ATD programs under current law: the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) already has the discretion to release immigrants on their own recognizance, on bond, on parole or into more closely supervised community custody programs, which include ATD programs. Yet, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE, the enforcement agency within DHS) routinely fails to exercise this discretion and has admitted to an over-reliance on incarcerating immigrants in jails and prisons.
DWN Policy Brief: Community-Based Alternatives to Immigration Detention August 2010 ▫ 2
The government’s stated immigration goal is to ensure that immigrants appear for their
immigration court dates and when necessary, comply with removal orders. Because
community-based ATDs ensure that program participants have access to low or no cost
support services, such as stable housing, medical care, and legal counsel, the government can increase the likelihood that participants will attend all court dates, be able to participate in the court process in an efficient manner, comply with an order of removal where applicable, or voluntarily depart if it becomes clear that they do not have a viable claim for relief. Established foreign ATD programs, domestic pilots, and analogous programs in the criminal justice system have all demonstrated that community organizations are successful at facilitating these goals.
ATDs are more cost effective and fiscally sustainable than the current detention system.
Immigration detention is expensive and inefficient, costing taxpayers $1.77 billion per year. In contrast, the costs of ATD programs are substantially less than incarceration.
The use of detention for immigrants who do not genuinely require the constant form of control that detention represents wastes government resources and unnecessarily overburdens the detention system.
Community-based ATDs are a more humane alternative to incarceration.
ATDs achieve the government’s immigration goals without the enormous human toll of detention. The current detention regime is riddled with abuses. Individuals in detention experience mistreatment and neglect by detention guards; have virtually no ability to access lawyers for help with their immigration cases; wait for months and years in detention because of a clogged and inefficient immigration court system; and face incarceration far away from their families.
By contrast, community-based ATDs allow immigrants who would otherwise be jailed for months or even years to return to their families and communities while their cases are pending. For example, in New Jersey, the Reformed Church of Highland Park has negotiated with DHS to release church members facing deportation proceedings into its care, in lieu of detention. To date, at least 70 men have been allowed to stay in the community and support their families while they prepare their immigration cases. Not a single one of these men has missed a court appearance.
ICE should make individualized custody determinations through the use of a risk assessment tool. ICE should only be able to impose physical incarceration if it articulates why a person is not suitable for release, parole, bond, or an ATD program.
ICE should partner with community-based non-governmental organizations with expertise in providing ATD services, including screening, legal referrals and social services.
DWN Policy Brief
Community-Based Alternatives to Immigration Detention August 2010 ▫ 3
When ICE chooses to detain an individual despite the availability of ATDs, it should provide that individual with a written statement of reasons for detention.
Electronic monitoring is not an ATD. ICE should only impose electronic monitoring if: (a) ICE would otherwise hold an individual in a detention facility, and (b) ICE demonstrates that no other less restrictive measure will ensure appearance at removal proceedings. ICE should also mandate a periodic review of each individual’s case when highly restrictive supervision and monitoring mechanisms are imposed.
ICE should collect data on an ongoing basis and conduct periodic evaluations of ATD programs to monitor the cost-efficiency and effectiveness of the programs. ICE should make the data and evaluation results publicly available.