A Better Way: Community-Based Programming as an Alternative to Immigrant Incarceration

Publication date: 
April 2019

How Should The United States Treat Asylum Seekers And Immigrants Who Seek Safety And Stability In Our Communities? The Question Implicates Legal, Ethical, Moral, And Economic Considerations. The United States Government Has Answered With Wasteful Policies Rooted In Cruelty And At Odds With Evidence-Based Analyses Of Migration Management.

There Is A Better Way.

Human rights norms and international law demand that immigrants benefit from a presumption of liberty during case adjudication. The use of immigration detention has been repeatedly proven inefficient, ineffective, and at odds with human welfare and dignity. Throughout the world, governments and non-governmental organizations are operating a growing variety of alternatives to detention. Evidence-based studies consistently prove community-based programs to be safer than a detention-based approach, vastly less expensive, and far more effective at ensuring compliance with government-imposed requirements. Most importantly, community-based alternatives offer a framework for refugee and migrant processing that is welcoming and allows families and communities to remain together.

Instead of pursuing alternatives, the United States has dramatically expanded its reliance on immigration detention in recent decades. Prior to the 1980s, the United States government rarely jailed individuals for alleged violations of the civil immigration code. This changed in the late 1980s, and the use of detention increased significantly after the government authorized the indefinite detention of Haitian asylum seekers at Guantanamo Bay in 1991, claiming a need to control the movement of arriving refugees and migrants. Using many of the same structures that were fueling mass incarceration of communities of color across America, the United States started locking up immigrants at unprecedented levels. 


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