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Sat. December 03, 2022
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The Migrant Detention Crisis Is Back
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By Madison Adams

Four years after the Trump administration instituted a harsh zero-tolerance policy on migration, the migration detention crisis is still a problem for the United States. Despite international agreement that migrant detention centers are only to be used as a last resort, the U.S. government uses them frequently. The United States has the resources to use alternatives to migrant detention, we simply need to normalize using them.

According to the ICE budget, the agency spent a total of over $4.1 million on Enforcement and Removal Operations in 2021. Yet only around $440,000 was spent on Alternatives to Detention[1]. Detention centers are costly. As of 2020, it costs $143.92 a day to upkeep one adult bed[2]. That amount skyrockets to over $300 a day to maintain a space in a family detention center[3]. Just last year, the Biden administration created temporary migrant centers in hotels and convention centers, but it cost $850 million, and the administration estimated that it would need another $4 billion to deal with the large influx of migrants[4]. The government should allocate more money to detention alternatives since it has proven to be more cost effective in the long term and more beneficial to a migrant’s well-being.

In addition to the financial ramifications, migrant detention puts immense strain on a person’s health and well-being. Migrants detained for any length of time, let alone the current average of 53 days, are more likely to experience adverse physical and mental health symptoms, including increased rates of anxiety and depression[5].

Alternatives to detention in the United States exist, but they are not used to their full potential[6]. In 2004, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency created the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP) and the Family Case Management Program (FCMP)[7]. ISAP includes alternatives such as ankle monitors or check in via various forms of technology. ISAP only costs $9 per migrant per day. This is similar to what the government already spends on a child receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The daily cost to feed an elementary school child on the SNAP program costs just over $10[8]. Some of the technology under ISAP draws controversy due to concerns about user privacy but it holds similar risks to someone posting on social media or completing shopping transactions over the Internet.

Despite being dismantled prematurely during its pilot run by the Trump administration, FCMP had a positive impact on migrants and their families due to its holistic approach requiring orientation programs and stabilizations services. It only cost $38 per family per day[9]. Programs such as ISAP and FCMP prove that non-detention alternatives are cost effective and are more beneficial for migrants and the U.S. immigration framework.

Critics argue that migrants need to be detained in order to be fully vetted to make sure they are not a risk to their communities. In 2020, migrant detention facilities had an average daily population of almost 34,000 people. It is unrealistic to except that tens of thousands of people will be properly vetted in a timely manner due to scarce monetary resources and limited immigration authorities. In addition, alternatives to detention typically have high compliance rates. FCMP had a 99% compliance rate for check-ins and immigration court proceedings. Participants were required to meet numerous times with case managers and ICE officials, so the argument that migrants will not be appropriately supervised does not hold much weight[10].

FCMP also assisted migrants in better adjusting to life in their communities. They could receive referrals to services such as education courses, English language classes, and medical assistance. Alternatives to detention allow migrants to acclimate to the U.S. better than inside a detention center ever would.

Some people would argue that integration is problematic rather than a benefit if migrants eventually receive deportation orders. However, in addition to aiding in integration, case management programs allow migrants to better understand the U.S. legal process and provide many of them with legal representation. People that better understand the immigration process are more likely to comply with its laws, regardless of the outcome. For example, fifteen families enrolled in FCMP followed removal orders or voluntarily chose deportation[11].

The United States already has some alternatives to detention in place but considering the small amount of money that gets allocated for those programs every year, they get little attention and are underutilized. Traditional detention centers are expensive for the U.S. government and raise concerns about the adverse impacts on a migrant’s physical and mental well-being. The United States government can combat these issues by placing greater emphasis on using alternatives to detention.  

Madison Adams is currently a student at the University of Denver pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies. 

 

Works Cited

"Beyond Detention - National Action Plan - United States". 2015. UNHCR. https://www.unhcr.org/5631ee799.html

"Dismantling Detention". 2021. Human Rights Watch.

International Alternatives to Detaining Immigrants | HRW 

Linton, Julie M., Marsha Griffin, Alan J. Shapiro, Lance A. Chilton, Patricia J. Flanagan,

Kimberley J. Dilley, and James H. Duffee et al. 2017. "Detention Of Immigrant Children". Pediatrics 139 (5). https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2017-0483.

Obser, Katharina. 2019. "The Family Case Management Program: Why Case Management

Can And Must Be Part Of The US Approach To Immigration". Womensrefugeecommission.Org. The-Family-Case-Management-Program.pdf (womensrefugeecommission.org) 

"Official USDA Thrifty Food Plan: U.S. Average, July 2021". 2021. Fns-Prod.Azureedge.Net. https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/media/file/CostofFoodJul2021Thrifty.pdf.

"Overcrowded Border Jails Give Way To Packed Migrant Child Shelters". Nytimes.Com. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/07/us/politics/migrant-children-shelters.html

Sullivan, Eileen Luke Broadwater, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, and Luke Broadwater. 2021.

Urbi, Jaden. 2018. "This Is How Much It Costs To Detain An Immigrant In The US". Cnbc.Com. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/20/cost-us-immigrant-detention-trump-zero-tolerance-tents-cages.html. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/20/cost-us-immigrant-detention-trump-zero-tolerance-tents-cages.html

"U.S. Immigration And Customs Enforcement Budget Overview". 2022. Pg. 5 https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/u.s._immigration_and_customs_enforcement.pdf#:~:text=The FY 2022 Budget includes $8.4B; 21,665 positions;,resource gaps to effectively carry out ICEâ??s mission.

 


[1] "U.S. Immigration And Customs Enforcement Budget Overview". 2022. Pg. 5 https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/u.s._immigration_and_customs_enforcement.pdf#:~:text=The FY 2022 Budget includes $8.4B; 21,665 positions;,resource gaps to effectively carry out ICEâ??s mission.

[2] "U.S. Immigration And Customs Enforcement Budget Overview". 2022. Pg. 24

[3] Urbi, Jaden. 2018. "This Is How Much It Costs To Detain An Immigrant In The US". Cnbc.Com. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/20/cost-us-immigrant-detention-trump-zero-tolerance-tents-cages.html. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/20/cost-us-immigrant-detention-trump-zero-tolerance-tents-cages.html

[4] Sullivan, Eileen Luke Broadwater, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, and Luke Broadwater. 2021.

"Overcrowded Border Jails Give Way To Packed Migrant Child Shelters". Nytimes.Com. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/07/us/politics/migrant-children-shelters.html

[5]Linton, Julie M., Marsha Griffin, Alan J. Shapiro, Lance A. Chilton, Patricia J. Flanagan,

Kimberley J. Dilley, and James H. Duffee et al. 2017. "Detention Of Immigrant Children". Pediatrics 139 (5). https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2017-0483.

[6] "Beyond Detention - National Action Plan - United States". 2015. UNHCR. https://www.unhcr.org/5631ee799.html

[7] "Dismantling Detention". 2021. Human Rights Watch.

International Alternatives to Detaining Immigrants | HRW

[8] "Official USDA Thrifty Food Plan: U.S. Average, July 2021". 2021. Fns-Prod.Azureedge.Net. https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/media/file/CostofFoodJul2021Thrifty.pdf.

[9] Obser, Katharina. 2019. "The Family Case Management Program: Why Case Management

Can And Must Be Part Of The US Approach To Immigration". Womensrefugeecommission.Org. The-Family-Case-Management-Program.pdf (womensrefugeecommission.org) 

[10] The-Family-Case-Management-Program.pdf (womensrefugeecommission.org) 

[11] The-Family-Case-Management-Program.pdf (womensrefugeecommission.org) 

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