You are currently viewing the printable version of this article, to return to the normal page, please click here.

WOOD AND MARTIN: Smart alternatives to immigrant detention

Private-sector supervision can reduce flight risk

Question of the Day

Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

View results

Congress held two hearings this month to examine the government's decision to release more than 2,000 immigrants from detention for budgetary reasons. The good news is that committee members of both parties used these hearings to focus on the core issue: our flawed immigration-detention system.

The government's purpose in detaining immigrants is not to punish them, but to ensure that they show up for hearings and comply with removal orders. In many cases, though, detention is not the best way to achieve these goals. Alternatives to detention are both routine and effective. They're employed every day, not just in the immigration system, but in the criminal justice systems of all 50 states and the federal government. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would be wise to re-examine how it uses alternatives in order to best fulfill its mission.

ICE detains more than 400,000 immigrants in jails and jaillike facilities across the country each year, at a cost of $2 billion. Some people, particularly those who have been determined to pose a threat to public safety, need to be detained. For many others, however, ICE can compel appearance with much less drastic and much more cost-effective measures.Using sophisticated risk-assessment techniques such as those used in the criminal justice system, ICE can identify people whose flight risk can be mitigated and who don't threaten public safety. About half of immigrant detainees have no criminal record at all, and almost 90 percent have never been convicted of a violent crime, according to ICE. This group includes legal immigrants who overstayed their visas, border-crossers with strong community ties, and asylum-seekers who have fled persecution only to find themselves locked up in the United States.

Alternatives to detention programs work, particularly when coupled with a sensible overall strategy to ensure compliance. That's why a large and diverse collection of groups — including the Heritage Foundation, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Conference of Chief Justices, the Council on Foreign Relations' Independent Task Force on U.S. Immigration Policy, and the Vera Institute of Justice — have endorsed alternatives.Used on a limited basis in the immigration system, alternatives to detention are developing a record of success. One alternative-to-detention program at ICE is called the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program II (ISAP II), and is run by a contractor, BI Inc. ICE determines the possible alternatives based on a person's risk profile, with options including a full-service program with case management and a technology-only program. In 2011, 96 percent of active participants in the full-service ISAP II programs showed up for their final hearing, and 84 percent complied with final orders.Alternatives cost taxpayers less than $9 per person per day, compared to $116 per person per day for those in detention. As the agency fine-tunes the program, it should become even more effective, especially if court proceedings for those in alternative-to-detention programs move ahead in a timely manner, which will require adequate funding of our nation's immigration courts.Congress shouldn't limit ICE's ability to develop new measures to ensure compliance. ICE must have the flexibility to address flight risk on a case-by-case basis. Like other law enforcement agencies, ICE needs to be able to make its detention decisions based on actual need and enforcement priorities.People from across the political spectrum are realizing that it pays to get tough on budgets by using alternatives to detention in the immigration system. It will be good news for the country if they make their voices heard as Congress tackles the budget and immigration reform in the weeks to come.

Julie Myers Wood, a former assistant secretary of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (20062008), is president of Guidepost Solutions LLC, whose clients include BI Inc. and other government contractors. Steve J. Martin, former general counsel for the Texas prison system, is a corrections consultant and lawyer.

blog comments powered by Disqus
TWT Video Picks
You Might Also Like
  • Maureen McDonnell looks on as her husband, former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, made a statement on Tuesday after the couple was indicted on corruption charges. (associated press)

    PRUDEN: Where have the big-time grifters gone?

  • This photo taken Jan. 9, 2014,  shows New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gesturing as he answers a question during a news conference  at the Statehouse in Trenton.  Christie will propose extending the public school calendar and lengthening the school day in a speech he hopes will help him rebound from an apparent political payback scheme orchestrated by key aides. The early front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination will make a case Tuesday Jan. 14, 2014, that children who spend more time in school graduate better prepared academically, according to excerpts of his State of the State address obtained by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    BRUCE: Bombastic arrogance or humble determination? Chris Christie’s choice

  • ** FILE ** Secretary of State Hillary Rodham testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Chris Stevens and three other Americans. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

    PRUDEN: The question to haunt the West

  • Get Breaking Alerts