October 27, 2011 NEWS RELEASE — LIRS Detention Report Reconciles Immigration Enforcement with Humanitarian Concerns

Press Contact: Fabio Lomelino, Assistant Director for Media Relations
410-230-2721, lirspress@lirs.org

BALTIMORE, October 27, 2011 – On any given day, 33,400 immigrants, including 1,400 asylum-seekers, are held in a network of more than 250 immigration detention centers across the United States with little or no judicial review or access to a lawyer. Incarceration has become the default means of immigration enforcement and represents a widespread violation of human rights on American soil. Locking up migrants now costs U.S. taxpayers $1.9 billion a year and is expected to increase in 2012.

With intractable gridlock in Washington, there has been little progress toward comprehensive immigration reform. Meanwhile the Obama administration has increased enforcement efforts claiming it must enforce the ‘law of the land’. In response to this deadlock Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) releases Unlocking Liberty, a report that explores key policy reforms that can relieve the suffering of hundreds of thousands of immigrants who are unnecessarily detained every year.

“Immigration authorities have been presented with the false choice between immigration enforcement and the humane treatment of migrants,” said LIRS President and CEO Linda Hartke. “There are proven and effective alternatives to detention available that allow us to uphold two of our greatest traditions as a country: the fair treatment of vulnerable people and respect for the rule of law.”

Community-based alternatives have proven to be more cost-efficient and humane than detention. Since the 1980’s, projects operated by non-profit organizations in the United States and abroad have provided tailored supervision, case management, and legal and social services to participants resulting in high appearance rates in immigration court at a far lower cost to the government than traditional detention.

While alternatives to detention save the government up to $100 a day per immigrant, they also lower the human cost of prolonged and indefinite detention experienced by those whose lives are unnecessarily put on hold while the courts deal with the tremendous backlog of immigration cases.

“There is a fundamental difference between prudence and excessive precaution,” said Leslie E. Velez, Director for Access to Justice at LIRS. “And that difference is felt in the lives interrupted, the families separated, and the unnecessary psychological harm done to those who have experienced significant trauma.”

The report points to an individualized risk assessment tool as the first critical step in reforming immigration enforcement. Pivotal to determining the necessary level of supervision is a process by which every individual is screened to assess the likelihood of absconding or any imminent security threat. This in turn allows for a presumption of release to be established under which the government must prove a need to detain someone. Current mandatory detention policies fail to discriminate between immigrants who are a flight or security risk and those for whom detention is unnecessary or inappropriate.

“We need to look at migrants as individuals,” said Velez. “Once we can shift from a one-size-fits-all approach to an individualized case-by-case determination of who should be detained, we will quickly see how often detention is disproportionate to our needs and harmful to the lives of migrants.”

The full report, along with additional media, expert interviews, and resources, is available at here.

About Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

LIRS welcomes refugees and migrants on behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. LIRS is nationally recognized for its leadership advocating with and on behalf of refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, immigrants in detention, families fractured by migration and other vulnerable populations, and for providing services to migrants through over 60 grassroots legal and social service partners across the United States