WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
20 Jun 2018 | Press Release

Family Incarceration Should Not Replace Family Separation

Washington, DC—Today, in response to the overwhelming public outcry against the policy of separating children from their families at the border, President Trump signed an executive order ending the policy of removing children from their parents when parents are imprisoned for the misdemeanor of crossing the border to seek asylum. Under the administration’s continuing “zero tolerance” policy, this will place massive numbers of migrant parents and children who are seeking protection in U.S. detention facilities together, which if over 20 days would be illegal.

“We should not be replacing the cruelty of family separation with the cruelty of family detention,” said Geoff Thale, the Vice President of Programs at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a leading research and advocacy organization advancing human rights in the Americas. “There are humane alternatives that will keep children with their families and protect the legal, orderly right to asylum.”  

The “Keep Families Together Act,” recently introduced by Democrats in the House of Representatives, would prohibit the Trump administration’s policy of taking migrant children from their parents, limit the criminal prosecution of asylum seekers, and help parents who have been separated from their children relocate them and be reunited.

“A terrible injustice is being done to families who have a legal right to seek asylum at our borders,” said Thale. “With apprehensions at the border at 46-year low, it’s clear that the real crisis isn’t the number of people crossing into the United States in search of protection from violence, the crisis is the trauma that the Trump administration is inflicting on migrant families.”

As WOLA has documented and as recommended by the Department of Homeland Security in a 2016 report, the prolonged detention of migrant families awaiting court hearings is expensive and unnecessary. In 2014, the Senate found that it costs the United States $318.79* per day to hold a family in detention. However, there are more humane and cost-effective alternatives to detention such as ankle bracelets, home visits, and telephone monitoring, so as to ensure that individuals appear for their immigration hearings. According to the Senate, electronic monitoring measures cost an average of $7 per day per person.

“Asylum-seekers who are fleeing for their lives and babies don’t represent a threat to the United States, and there is no reason to lock them up like animals while they are awaiting their court date when there are so many reasonable and effective alternatives to ensure a legal and orderly process,” said Thale.


*In an earlier version of this press release, WOLA quoted a U.S. Senate document that stated that family detention costs an average $266 per person per day. We have edited the number to reflect the cost of family detention stated in the Department of Homeland Security FY19 Budget Overview