The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has finally released the results of a months-long review of its detention system. The report and its recommendations support what advocates have said for years: DHS should stop operating its immigration detention system like the criminal justice system.
In an article published the day the report was released, the New York Times referred to the current detention system as “a costly, inappropriately penal system,” a point echoed by most immigration advocates. ICE is spending too much keeping non-criminal individuals locked up instead of with their families.
For immigration advocates, ICE’s proposed reforms were cause for cautious optimism. Dare we say that DHS and ICE are embracing a new way of thinking? We certainly can hope.
According to Secretary Napolitano, DHS and ICE will work to ensure better medical care for detainees; explore expanded use of Alternatives To Detention (ATD) for low-risk, non violent detainees and will pay more attention to the companies to which the agencies assign contracts to run detention facilities. She has even offered a timeline of when reforms could be implemented. It’s not a cause célèbre, but it is an encouraging sign.
As advocates, there is much more that we would like to see, such as the increased use of paroled supervision for immigrant families and other non violent immigrants instead of having them locked up behind bars. Studies have shown that the majority of immigrants in detention are non violent, non criminal, and often eligible for some form of relief. In fact, an Associated Press analysis showed that more than 18,000 of ICE’s 32,000 detainees had no criminal conviction:
The data show that 18,690 immigrants had no criminal conviction, not even for illegal entry or low-level crimes like trespassing. More than 400 of those with no criminal record had been incarcerated for at least a year. A dozen had been held for three years or more; one man from China had been locked up for more than five years.
Nearly 10,000 had been in custody longer than 31 days -- the average detention stay that ICE cites as evidence of its effective detention management.
We aren’t. Across the country, CLINIC affiliates, like Hogar Hispano in Arlington, VA and Catholic Charities of Atlanta, meet and offer assistance to individuals that end up behind ICE’s bars. These people are mothers, fathers, husbands, wives and even children. Many are asylum seekers and individuals fleeing persecution in their native countries. Others come seeking to be reunited with family members in the United States.
America prides itself on its ideals as a country of opportunity, liberty, and family values. We should do more than just lock up individuals that arrive on our shores in search of a better life. We should treat them humanely, work thoughtfully to resolve their cases, and respect their dignity as human beings.
Melissa Williams is the Public Affairs Officer at CLINIC.