Alternatives to Detention


LIRS President Linda Hartke discusses the need for alternatives to detention.

Immigration Detention

Every day the United States government incarcerates approximately 34,000 men, women and families in more than 250 facilities authorized to hold individuals detained for civil violations of immigration law. This massive detention system, comprised of federal, state and local jails, comes at an enormous cost – $2.051 billion in fiscal year 2012 – to taxpayers, families, immigrants and communities throughout the country. Refugees, asylum seekers, survivors of torture, and victims of human trafficking and violent crimes are amongst those held while their immigration case is processed and the very real potential for deportation lingers indefinitely. Being confined in prison or prison-like conditions can be deeply re-traumatizing and harmful, especially for those who have suffered torture and trauma in their home country. Detention separates families, inflicts unnecessary pain and suffering on immigrants and their families, and exacerbates both a human and economic crisis that this country struggles to repair.

LIRS believes that detention is an inhumane and fiscally irresponsible default response to migration in the U.S., and we strive to create a more just system that treats every individual with the respect he or she deserves. We believe the government could meet both its humanitarian and enforcement obligations, if and when it properly utilizes community-based alternatives to immigration detention.

Explore LIRS reports related to immigration detention:

  • Locking Up Family Values, Again: The Continued Failure of Immigration Family Detention (2014): Written in conjunction with the Women’s Refugee Commission, this report, much like the 2007 report off of which it is built, argues that there is no way to humanely detain families, particularly in the current arbitrary manner in which families are detained, and that the practice of family detention denies migrants their right to due process.
  • Unlocking Liberty: A Way Forward for U.S. Immigration Detention Policy (2011): Unlocking Liberty describes issues related to immigration detention, discusses the concept and the benefits & drawbacks of alternatives to detention (ATDs), and includes suggestions to Congress and ICE regarding the implementation of ATDs.
  • Locking Up Family Values: The Detention of Immigrant Families (2007): The original LIRS/Women’s Refugee Commission report on family detention, Locking Up Family Values was written in response to a shift towards family detention in the mid-2000s in the U.S., and explores the implications of this shift in order to inform the development of governmental policy and actions that best serve the interests of migrant families and children.

Want some quick resources you can reference for more information?

Inspired by these resources and looking for volunteer opportunities working with immigrants impacted by detention? Read more about LIRS’s Access to Justice unit’s Detention to Connection program that supports new and existing visitation programs, or get connected with one of ATJ’s partners near you working with this vulnerable population.

Find information about LIRS’s work with immigrants impacted by detention with its Access to Justice program on the Access to Justice webpage.