Every day the United States government incarcerates approximately 34,000 men, women and families in a massive detention system, comprised of federal, state and local jails, that comes at an enormous cost – $2.051 billion in fiscal year 2012 – to taxpayers, families, immigrants and communities throughout the United States. 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 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.

Community-Based Alternatives to Detention

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. LIRS also believes that the government could meet both its humanitarian and enforcement obligations, if and when it properly utilizes community-based alternatives to immigration detention.

Community-based alternatives provide culturally appropriate case management, ongoing legal assistance, and housing to individuals who demonstrate a need for such services and are eligible to be released from detention. Experience suggests that individuals will appear for their mandatory appointments, are able to successfully restore their personal dignity and pride, and better integrate into their community when offered ample information on the legal and social systems to which they are subject.

Building Networks of Support

LIRS promotes access to justice by providing critical legal and social support to migrants impacted by immigration detention. LIRS’s Access to Justice unit works to provide compassionate support for migrants impacted by detention through its three programs:

  • Community Support Network: A national community-based alternative service model funded and maintained in collaboration with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, is a network consisting of seven hubs that provides a continuum of holistic care upon immigrants’ release from detention.
  • Detained Torture Survivors’ Legal Support Network: This program ensures that survivors of torture receive critical legal representation throughout their immigration proceedings through ATJ partners’ network of legal service providers located in three U.S. locations.
  • Detention to Connection: Access to Justice helps equip partners to educate, engage, and support volunteers who provide a spectrum of accompaniment services to migrants impacted by detention by providing technical assistance and volunteer support to a network of 12 visitation ministries.

These three programs are complementary projects working cohesively to generate an invaluable knowledge base of best practices and evidence to better support policy change regarding immigration detention in the United States. Imperative to the success of these projects is the networks’ capacity to collect, analyze, and disseminate information specific to the outcomes of their services, in which LIRS plays a vital part.