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ICYMI: “The US doesn’t have to choose between protecting the border and treating immigrants humanely”

Washington, DC – In a new article for Quartz, Annabelle Timsit cuts through the administration’s balderdash and outlines an achievable path to both protect our border and treat immigrants humanely.

Timsit recommends four key steps:

  1. Find alternatives to putting asylum-seekers in detention;
  2. Expand access to legal aid and immigration judges;
  3. Widen the scope of those who qualify for asylum; and
  4. Change attitudes.

“The US doesn’t have to choose between protecting the border and treating immigrants humanely” is excerpted below or available online in full here.

There are other, existing alternatives to family detention (ATDs). As Nazario describes in The Times:

“ICE has two programs that use electronic ankle monitors, biometric voice-recognition software, unannounced home visits, telephone reporting and global positioning technologies to track people who have been released from detention while their cases are being heard, at a cost of 30 cents to $8.04 per person per day. In 2013, 96% of those enrolled appeared for their final court hearings, and 80% of those who did not qualify for asylum complied with their removal orders.”

In other words, we know how to create immigration enforcement programs that don’t rely on indefinite detention. So why don’t we?

…Nazario has a suggestion for what the government can do with the extra funds it will have by giving up detention centers. “Instead of spending money on family detention centers that brutalize children,” she wrote, “we should … expand access to pro bono and government-funded lawyers so that the immigration court process isn’t a sham.”

Ur Jaddou, the director of DHS Watch, a policy-focused project of immigration organization America’s Voice, adds that the government could use some of the money it saves to recruit, train, and pay more federal immigration judges, thereby helping to alleviate the backlog of cases. (The Trump administration has already begun recruiting more immigration judges, from 289 at the end of 2016 to 397 today.)

“Those are the solutions,” says Jaddou. “Releasing people on alternative to detention, and making their immigration hearings come faster, and tracking them through the entire system, from the moment they enter to the moment of the end of their immigration hearing. And if their immigration hearing results in a removal order … then that should be fulfilled.”

…Immigration has become a hugely partisan issue in the United States. Many immigration hardliners disagree with the notion that the US has a responsibility to take in more refugees. John Fonte, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank based in DC, told Quartz, “We determine the laws in this country, not foreigners coming in, throwing rocks and bottles and harming Americans.” When Quartz asked him whether he supported the response of border agents against children, he said “If they [asylum-seekers] were serious about the children, they wouldn’t have brought them in the first place.” He summed up his view by saying: “They’re acting violently … and basically, they should be sent back at this point.”

Jaddou says immigration has become such a charged issue that it’s hard to reach any sort of political consensus around it. And she blames president Trump for this: “We’re being led by a person who’s taking advantage of a complex issue for his benefit,” she told Quartz.

But immigration advocates say it’s possible to reform the way the US processes asylum claims and treats asylum-seekers without abandoning the security of its border. As Nazario told The Times, “Law and order can go hand in hand with humanity. It’s the American way.”

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