WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
6 Sep 2018 | Press Release

Indefinitely Detaining Migrant Families is Inhumane, Unnecessary, and Expensive

Washington, DC—On September 7, the Trump administration will officially publish proposed regulations that would enable the U.S. government to hold migrant families in detention indefinitely, pending their asylum decisions. Thanks to the Flores settlement—a court order that has been upheld for more than 20 years—the government cannot currently hold migrant children in detention for more than 20 days. With these proposed regulations, the administration is seeking to overturn that ruling. According to leading research and advocacy group the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), which has extensively analyzed the potential ramifications of mass family detention, the Trump administration’s push to replace the cruelty of family separation with the almost equally cruel family detention ignores the many alternatives which are more humane, effective, and less expensive.

“The Trump administration was content to rip children from the arms of their parents, until massive public outcry forced them to stop. Keeping 100 percent of asylum-seeking families and kids locked up for months or even years is no less horrific,” said WOLA Vice President for Programs Geoff Thale.

As WOLA highlighted in a recent report, it is far from clear how the Trump administration would meet its proposed goal of holding all asylum-seeking families together in detention while their claims are adjudicated. One proposal floating around is to keep migrant families in “tent cities” at military facilities—an idea which has had no precedent since the internment of Japanese families during World War II.

There are other practical obstacles, including cost: ICE’s 2019 budget request to Congress estimates that it costs an average of US$318.79 per day to detain a family. A broad range of research shows there are other alternatives to detention that are effective in ensuring that asylum seekers attend their court dates, while costing U.S. taxpayers significantly less money. As stated in WOLA’s recent report:

“The Department of Homeland Security estimated for FY2018 that alternatives to detention cost a mere $4.50 a day. An ICE-run Family Case Management Program (FCMP), which operated on a limited basis until the Trump administration ended it in 2017, linked asylum-seeking families with caseworkers without the need for ankle bracelets. The FCMP cost only $36 per day, and 99 percent of families showed up for their court appearances. Another alternatives-to-detention effort, ICE’s Intensive Supervision Appearance Program, also achieved a 99 percent appearance rate, according to 2013 data, using a combination of telephone check-ups, in-person visits, and GPS monitoring.”

“Many asylum seekers are already the victims of brutal violence. Holding them indefinitely in prison-like conditions will only further traumatize them and limit their ability to access the legal help they need,” said Thale. “With this latest move, the Trump administration is signaling it cares little for the basic rights and welfare of children, so long as they can push through their draconian immigration agenda by any means necessary.”

See WOLA’s other resources on the ramifications of family detention: