AILA: Increasing Detention Won’t Solve Humanitarian Crisis

Friday, June 20, 2014

George Tzamaras
Belle Woods

AILA: Increasing Detention Won't Solve Humanitarian Crisis

BOSTON, MA — Leslie A. Holman, President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) responded to the Obama Administration's announcement today that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to open additional detention facilities for families along with other steps intended to address the humanitarian crisis at our southern border with the following statement:

"We need to address the factors pushing children and families to make the incredibly dangerous journey northward. The current humanitarian crisis will only be solved when those factors are lessened, when gang violence is not an overriding fear, and when abuse and trafficking are not ever-present.

"However, this humanitarian crisis is not going to be solved by increasing the detention of families. Frankly, I'm surprised at this because I believe that our country's values center on protecting families, and these particular families are so very vulnerable. They deserve careful treatment because of their vulnerabilities and our nation's strong humanitarian and asylum principles.

"Putting families in detention is something that has been tried and just doesn't work. A few years ago, Immigration and Customs Enforcement shut down the T. Don Hutto family detention facility in Texas due to the harshness of conditions and abuses. These are families that include the young children we're talking about, who have come seeking safety. Putting them in a position that could lead to abuse is abhorrent to me.

"With this crisis, I can understand the desire to respond quickly and we should. But that shouldn't mean we rush decisions and try to remove people without due process. Already 70 percent of removals take place without ever coming before an immigration judge. I hope the U.S. will not further escalate the use of expedited removal that severely curtails the due process and fairness that are hallmarks of the American legal system. DHS has said they are going to send more judges which is a very good thing, but the immigration court system is still severely underfunded.

"Finally, why would we spend vast sums on detaining families when alternatives to detention are effective, far more humane, and cost far less to implement? Use of alternatives to detention that maintain legal custody such as electronic monitoring and intensive supervision should be greatly expanded instead of institutional detention. Offering a chance for bond and release should be the priority except in rare cases when these options are not suitable. Alternatives to detention would help DHS maintain its humanitarian commitment to protect families."


The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 14062049.