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Republican and Trump’s Plan to Keep Families in Detention is Not a Solution to Family Separation and It is Just as Harmful to Children

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Children Don’t Belong in Detention, Especially When There Are Effective, Humane and Cost-efficient Alternatives

Medical experts, from pediatricians to psychologists, have resoundingly agreed that separating children from parents under Trump’s family separation policy iscausing irreparable harm…[and] can carry lifelong consequences for children.” The President of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) even described it as, “nothing less than government-sanctioned child abuse.”  

President Trump, through his executive order, and Republicans, through their proposed immigration bill, are now proposing a false choice between family separation and indefinite incarceration of children and parents.  Like their opposition to family separation, the AAP also opposes incarceration of families, as they consider it to be harmful with long-term consequences to the well-being of both children and adults.

Family Detention is Also Harmful

Here is why family detention is harmful to children, according to an AAP report:

Studies of detained immigrants, primarily from abroad, have found negative physical and emotional symptoms among detained children,5557 and posttraumatic symptoms do not always disappear at the time of release.56 Young detainees may experience developmental delay58 and poor psychological adjustment, potentially affecting functioning in school.59 Qualitative reports about detained unaccompanied immigrant children in the United States found high rates of posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and other behavioral problems.60 Additionally, expert consensus has concluded that even brief detention can cause psychological trauma and induce long-term mental health risks for children.51

Here is why family detention is harmful to parents, also according to an AAP report:

Studies of adults in detention have demonstrated negative physical and mental health effects that can reasonably be applied to adult members of detained family units. For instance, detained adult asylum seekers suffered from musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, respiratory, and neurologic symptoms.61 They also commonly experienced anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, difficulty with relationships, and self-harming behavior.6266 Detention itself undermines parental authority and capacity to respond to their children’s needs; this difficulty is complicated by parental mental health problems.56,67

Effective, Humane, and Cost-efficient Alternatives:  Release on Recognizance, Bond, and Alternatives to Detention (ATDs)

According to direct legal service providers who work with immigrants and refugees:

Asylum seekers and those with credible legal claims and family and community in the United States have strong incentives to appear in immigration court and comply with requirements. Consequently, for many, release on recognizance or a minimal bond is appropriate because they pose little flight risk or risk to the community.

Where there is flight risk, alternatives to detention (ATDs) are not only humane, they are successful and cost-effective. According to the 2018 ICE budget justification, it costs $133.99 per day to hold an adult immigrant in detention and $319.37 for an individual in family detention, whereas ATDs only cost an average of $4.50 per day.  A 2014 GAO study found that the ATD daily rate was less than 7% of the daily cost in detention.

Depending on the facts in each case, there are multiple and effective ATDs to ensuring “high rates of compliance with immigration check-ins, hearings and — if ordered — removal.”  Some options include GPS monitoring devices, in-person reporting or telephonic check-ins.

Here are some facts that support the use of community-support ATD models:

  • ICE’s now terminated Family Case Management Program (FCMP), for
    example, had compliance rates of 99% with immigration requirements such as court hearings and immigration appointments (including at least a dozen families who were ultimately deported), at a cost of only $36 per day per family.
  • Two national ATD programs – one run by the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) at $7-24 a day per individual and another run by the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) – produced a 97% appearance rate.   
  • A 1999 INS-LIRS ATD program for 25 Chinese asylum seekers produced a 96% appearance rate at 3% of the cost of detention.
  • An INS-Catholic Charities program run from 1999-2002, at a cost of only $1,430 per year per person, resulted in a 97% appearance rate for 39 asylum seekers and 64 “indefinite detainees” who could not be removed from the U.S.  
  • A Vera Institute of Justice report on a supervised release and assistance program run from 1997-2000 found that, of over 500 asylum seekers, non-citizens with criminal convictions facing removal, and undocumented workers, 91% appeared for required hearings (93% for asylum seekers).
  • A 2015 family detention alternative run by LIRS cost only $50 a day for an entire family to receive housing for families without support, orientations on compliance, access to legal representation and wrap-around case management (just 6% of the cost of family detention).