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Vulnerable Migrant Groups Should Not Be Detained

by Angel Valdez

WASHINGTON—The U.S. immigrant detention system, which treats vulnerable immigrant detainees as criminals, needs extensive reforms, said representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Center for Migration Studies as they released a report and policy recommendations. They urged Congress and the administration to build a system that affords due process protections, honors human dignity and minimizes the use of detentions.

“It is time for our nation to reform this inhumane system, which unnecessarily detains persons, especially vul-nerable populations, who are no threat to us and who should be afforded due process and legal protections,” said Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration. Such vulnerable groups include asylum-seekers, families and children, and victims of human trafficking.

The report, “Unlocking Human Dignity: A Plan to Transform the U.S. Immi-grant Detention System,” was written and produced by the Center for Migration Studies (CMS), a Catholic-based educational institute that studies migration, and Migration and Refugee Services of USCCB.

“The presumption is to detain immigrants as a management, enforcement and deterrence tool rather than to make individual custody determinations based on family and community ties” Bishop Elizondo said. “This has resulted in the long-term detention of asylum-seekers, victims of human trafficking, survivors of torture, and, now, young mothers with children.” Statistics from the Depart-ment of Homeland Security (DHS) indicate that as many as 34,000 immigrants are detained each day and over 400,000 each year.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York, member of the committee and chair of the Center for Migration Studies, pointed to the availability of alternatives to detention, such as community-based case management models, which are proven to be both cost-effective and successful in ensuring that immigrants appear at their court proceedings.

“There are ways to create a humane system and also ensure that immigrants are complying with the law,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “But we have created a detention industry in this country which preys upon the vulnerability of our fellow human beings, the vast majority of whom are not criminals.”

Donald Kerwin, executive director of the Center for Migration Studies, pointed to the prevalence of for-profit companies, which view detention as a business opportunity, in administering detention facilities. “Deten-tion policy, which directly impacts the human rights and dignity of persons, should not be driven by a profit motive. Detention wastes not only government funds, but the human potential of hundreds of thousands of persons each year,” Kerwin said.

The report, which contains recommendations for chang-ing the current detention system, can be found at http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-and-refugee-services/upload/unlocking-human-dignity.pdf


Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXXIV, No. 3, June-August 2015.